Benitez stakes reputation on Crouch ability

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The Liverpool manager was astonished at both the reaction to Crouch's competitive international debut against Austria last Saturday and the disapproval that emerged from all corners of Old Trafford when he replaced Shaun Wright-Phillips in the 67th minute of the victory over Poland. His striker's subsequent involvement in the move that produced Frank Lampard's winner on Wednesday brought almost apologetic applause from England supporters, but it was not enough to satisfy the Spaniard. "Those responsible don't know a lot about football or understand the game," he rebuked.

Benitez took Crouch aside on his return to Liverpool to ask whether his confidence had been affected by international events. The striker, who has become accustomed to ridicule on account of his frame, replied that it had not, and will run out against Blackburn Rovers at Anfield this afternoon to a far more appreciative reception. His manager said: "For as long as he works hard, he can be sure everyone at the club and our fans will be with him. What matters to me is that Liverpool fans like him; I don't care what other fans think.

"If he doesn't play well, OK, it's my decision and it's my responsibility, not his. For as long as he's on the pitch wearing a Liverpool shirt, and he's trying to do the things I ask of him, I accept all responsibility. And if we don't play to his needs, we must find the solutions."

Having collected four major trophies in four seasons, Benitez's reputation outweighs the opinions of Crouch's detractors and, though he admits an absence of natural wingers at Liverpool is not helping the striker's search for goals, the manager who masterminded the club's European Cup success believes his summer purchase has illustrated his value already.

Benitez added: "I was surprised by what happened [on Wednesday]. If you've watched the games he's played, and listened to the managers, no one can say anything other than he's a good player. As a manager, I'm convinced he's a good player.

"The fact he's in the national team shows a lot of people have the same opinion. Maybe there are better players in England or the rest of the world, but he's still a very, very good player and he will do an excellent job for his club and his country."

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