He may have the physique to make Michael Phelps look like an ordinary human being, but Peter Crouch has consistently proven himself in the last few years to have the full array of skills required for a place in Capello’s England squad later this year.
The lofty striker has quite literally made a career of proving the many doubters wrong in overcoming the obstacles of his 6 foot 7 inches ‘could hide behind railings” frame. Years ago he was used as the running joke of English football, that if someone was mentioned to possibly represent England because of their size (for example the likes of Kevin Davies or Emile Heskey), then others would scoff “you might as well just put Crouch in the England team”. However 36 games and 18 England goals later and people have had to look for another target for their criticisms, with Crouch having taken over from where Owen left off as the man who’s always in the right positions to score.
After years spent proving his technical skill to force the “good feet for a big man” quote, the criticisms had more recently turned full circle to focus now upon a perceived lack of aerial strength, despite his height. Always a man to confound the critics though, Crouch’s move to Spurs in the summer has seen the appearance of a different player, with real physicality in the air. Almost every high pumped ball forward (and it is a tactic Spurs have relied on a lot, possibly even a little too much) is being won and nodded down into the dangerous areas around the edge of the box; for the likes of Defoe, Kranjcar and Huddlestone to gorge upon with shot after shot.
The Leeds game at Elland Road was the perfect example. Home boss Simon Grayson had specifically brought in Lubomir Michalik, the biggest and lumpiest of the Leeds defenders; who within half an hour had all but given up on any attempts to offer an aerial challenge to Crouch, who was integral to Spurs’ total of 22 shots on goal in the 90 minutes.
Though 5 goals in 24 league games may not exactly be screaming the words “English world cup starter”, Crouch’s ability to set up team-mates has him crucially perched in the top 10 (along fellow Spurs boy Aaron Lennon) for the most Premier League assists this season. With Heskey on an unconvincing 2 goals and just 1 assist after nearly 20 league games himself, he must surely now concede his position to the man who not only is a more prolific goalscorer and creator of goals, but also now has the strength to comfortably lead the England line and hold his own against any country in the world.
The simple difference between Crouch and many other ‘target men’ and the reason that he creates so many goals, is that his height allows him significantly to head the ball down. Meaning that when the ball is lumped up to him, Crouch’s headers regularly become deliberate and precise passes to tee up team-mates. It is the difference between a long and precise pass from a Beckham or a Scholes; and Andy Griffin or Robert Huth lumping it forward into space down the channels.
At the World Cup, almost no country will have a man capable of stopping Crouch, if he is given adequate service; while the thought of Crouchy nodding down around the edge of the box to ball-strikers of the quality of Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard in South Africa, is one that should have any England fan drooling with anticipation for this summer’s big tournament.