Throughout his career, Peter Crouch has faced the same problem with a succession of managers who convince themselves that by selecting a 6ft 7in striker – albeit one who happens to score lots of goals – they will somehow detract from their reputations as tacticians.
There is a flawed school of thought that picking Crouch is the easy way out; that football should be more complicated than playing a natural goal-scorer who also happens, through no fault of his own, to be extremely tall. Some managers seem to fear that if they pick Crouch they will be accused of the ultimate tactical slight of knocking the ball up to the big man.
It is a stigma Crouch has had to carry throughout his 10-year career, from Queen's Park Rangers to Tottenham Hotspur and through two World Cups finals and 40 England caps. If he does not score a goal every other game – and sometimes even if he does – he is automatically expected to prove himself all over again. The culprits have been David O'Leary, Steve Wigley and, to a lesser extent, Rafael Benitez.
This month, Fabio Capello's England have scored one goal in 180 minutes of largely excruciating World Cup football. During that time, Crouch has been on the field for an aggregate of 18 minutes, as a substitute in both matches. England need to score against Slovenia on Wednesday to stay in the tournament. How about picking a striker who actually scores goals?
Capello has tried just about everything – apart from picking Crouch. Under the heading of "Getting The Best Out Of Wayne Rooney", he has stuck doggedly with poor old Emile Heskey and it has failed. Now he is considering starting Jermain Defoe with Rooney. England could be on a plane to Heathrow come Thursday with us still waiting to learn what system gets the best out of Rooney.
England's system is so geared towards Rooney that no one has considered what might happen if he does not score goals. If there is only one plan, then what happens when it does not work?
Crouch has scored 21 international goals, which places him joint eighth with Kevin Keegan on the all-time list of England goal-scorers. For the record, Keegan scored his 21 goals over 63 caps. Crouch has scored his current total of 21 in 40 caps. Of Keegan's 63 caps, 62 were starts and he was on the pitch for a total of 5,502 minutes. Crouch has started just 18 of his 40 caps and scored his goals over only 2,113 minutes.
If Crouch was built more like Keegan in his prime; if he came with the same goal-scoring record but without the long, thin legs and pointy elbows, he would surely have had a better career. It takes a manager with a bit of courage to put his faith in Crouch, who looks like an unorthodox footballer but scores goals like a regular centre-forward.
Jamie Carragher once said of Crouch that he is a "goal-scorer in a targetman's body". Carragher recognised that, beyond the unusual physique, Crouch is no different in spirit and instinct to Keegan or Michael Owen or Rooney himself. The vast majority of his goals for England have come when he has started games (17 in 18 starts). The evidence suggests that to give him the best chance of scoring he needs to start.
There is an old fallacy that Crouch only scores against the weaker international teams. He scored in November 2007 against Croatia, a team so "weak" that they beat England on both occasions in that Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. Last month, he scored against Mexico – currently one of form teams of this World Cup. In competitive games against the likes of Trinidad and Tobago and Macedonia, he has scored the goals that have given England their crucial breakthroughs.
The key reason Crouch has not scored against a Portugal, Brazil, Germany, Russia, France or Holland is that not once has he been given the chance to start against these nations. Apart from a brief run under Sven Goran Eriksson, he has been England's reluctant Plan B. If Rooney scored goals for England at the same rate as Crouch – one per every 100 minutes on the pitch – he would have 45 goals by now instead of 25.
Crouch has worked under managers who have been secure enough in their own judgement to back him and not care what the rest think. They have tended to be the more free-thinking or those who have experienced some setbacks themselves: Gerry Francis, Ian Holloway, Graham Rix, Graham Taylor and Harry Redknapp (on more than one occasion). Benitez championed him in the days before his paranoia really kicked in.
I worked with Crouch on his autobiography four years ago and, as we unfolded the story of his career – from Tottenham trainee to QPR and on through Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Norwich (on loan), Southampton, Liverpool, Portsmouth (again) and back to Spurs – the theme has been the same. Too often, he has been the last resort, as he probably will be if England have failed to score after an hour on Wednesday.
Towards the end of Spurs' season, Crouch lost his place in the team to Roman Pavlyuchenko, who was on a decent run. Come the crunch Champions League decider against Manchester City, Redknapp decided that Crouch was more suited to the big occasion than Pavlyuchenko and Crouch duly scored the winner, thus proving that he might be a different shape to most footballers but, like them all, he responds to a bit of faith.
Fashion faux pas and Ince make for offensive viewing
Things just go from bad to worse for the woeful SABC television coverage of the World Cup here in South Africa. Having first insisted on dressing their pundits up in identical, ill-fitting suits they have now failed to can Paul Ince after he repeatedly referred to Italians as "Eyeties" live on air during the game against Paraguay.
Having watched the former Blackburn manager dressed up in an SABC-issue white and black-spotted cravat you could reasonably have thought that it could not get any more offensive than that – but it did.
FA hospitality is first class ... shame about the team
As usual the Football Association have done a fine job for the media pack who follow the England team, providing an excellent media centre at the Royal Bafokeng training ground. There is wireless internet access, sofas, work benches, air conditioning and complimentary Mars bars. Basically all the elements conducive to journalism of the absolute highest standard.
It would be such a shame to pack it all up on Thursday morning. Funny how the FA have got so good at the logistics of big tournaments. All they need now is to get the team right.Reuse content