The trouble with Peter

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What IS the problem with Peter Crouch?

Less than 48 hours after being pipped at the post for the Match of the Day Goal of the Season, the Stoke striker was omitted from Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad, usurped by a Liverpool player who had had eight decent weeks following fourteen months of mediocrity. The merits or otherwise of Andy Carroll are a whole new subject, but the treatment of Crouch by a variety of managers never ceases to
bewilder. During his career he’s been transferred for a combined total north of £45m so a lot of people clearly rate him, but often sell him. True, he has shortcomings, more limited in the air than you’d expect and lacking in pace, but he’s good with his back to goal, tackles well, has a deft touch on the ground and his goals-per-game strike rate consistently hovers around 30%. When you consider that his International record is an even more impressive 22 goals from 42 appearances (many as substitute) it’s difficult to understand why he didn’t make the plane this summer.

The trouble with Crouchy is that nobody is quite sure what to do with him. Often referred to as an “option-player” he has become, to use City parlance, a Traded Option. The pattern started early in his career. Despite being capped for England Under-20’s he left Spurs without a first team appearance to his name and cost QPR just £60,000. The R’s were his boyhood favourites and he quickly became
known as “Rodney” (after Trotter, not Marsh), netting 12 times in 47 appearances. Though popular with the fans Q.P.R. were relegated and gratefully accepted £1.5m from Portsmouth as they desperately reduced their outgoings. At Pompey in 2001/
2 he scored every other game, causing manager Graham Rix to declare in a BBC interview “Peter is quality and he can only get better”. Others agreed and Graham Taylor paid £5m to take him to Aston Villa. After a bright start at Villa, he struggled to
hold down a first team place and spent three months on loan at Norwich that gained him new admirers and a First Division Championship medal for 2003/4. His improved form continued back at Villa Park, but when Southampton put in a bid for him the
Midlanders recouped only half their original investment.

Initially bought as back-up for James Beattie and Kevin Phillips, Harry Redknapp felt able to sell Beattie to Everton giving Crouch the opportunity to rebuild his career with 16 goals from 33 appearances, a return that was to earn him an England call-up in May 2005. Despite this, as at Q.P.R., relegation forced the Saints to review their finances and they were happy to accept £7m from Liverpool.

At Liverpool he was the subject of intense media scrutiny because of an initial goal drought. In 19 games, spanning four months, and despite some creditable performances, he didn’t score until early December when managing two against Wigan. Several more followed including an F.A. Cup fifth round winner over Man.Utd en route to the dramatic Millenium Stadium victory against The Hammers. The
following season started well with the headed winner against Chelsea in the 2–1 Charity Shield victory. Subsequently he became the club’s top scorer in an eventful season that included seven strikes in the Champions League campaign (only Kaka got more that year), a “perfect” hat-trick against Arsenal and a broken nose that required an operation. The arrival of Fernando Torres, amongst others, dropped him down the pecking order in 2007/8 but his good record in Europe continued with four in eight games including the “bookend” goals in the 8-0 burial of Besiktas.

Whilst life at Liverpool was not plain sailing, his England career flourished under Sven-Goran Eriksson and he was a key member of the 2006 World Cup squad.

He scored freely, including a hat-trick in the 6-0 warm-up thrashing of Jamaica and continued when Steve McLaren took the reins. His ten goals in a single calendar year had not been achieved since the Twenties when it had been the preserve of “goal- machines” such as Dean and Camsell. It came as no great surprise, therefore, that Harry Redknapp decided to tempt him back to Fratton Park to spearhead Pompey’s first European foray. The number 9 duly obliged with braces against Guimaraes and Heerenveen, but once Harry moved to Spurs there was always the feeling that Crouch would follow Jermain Defoe back to White Hart Lane as Portsmouth’s finances deteriorated.

At Spurs the competition for places meant he was often left out or came off the bench, but he scored regularly in Europe and for the National side under Capello, so clearly the international game is more suited to his style. Goals for his current club, Stoke City, against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Besiktas tend to bear this out, whereas even with Etherington, Pennant and Delap providing aerial ammunition the league haul is less impressive. That said, he did win Player of the Season for the Potters and, unsurprisingly, Stoke’s Goal of the Season award.

It may be that Peter Crouch has finally found the right club for him, but for me those goal statistics tell a story (1 in 2 for European and International matches against 3 in 10 domestically) and a move to the Continent can’t be ruled out especially now that his International career has taken a turn for the worse. Of the “big” leagues, France would seem the best suited to his style of play and P.S.G., Lyon and Marseille could all afford to both pay his wages and provide regular European football. He also strikes me as the kind of guy who would personally thrive abroad. The suggestion will not go down well with Stoke fans, but my feeling is that this could really happen.

By Rob Macardle, 7 Valleys Media & Management ©2012

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