Peter "No Slouch" Crouch: What Should Capello Do With This Guy?

Sports News - March 04, 2010

Another England match, another goal for Peter Crouch. Sure, the one against Mexico yesterday was hardly artful, in fact, it was illegal on two fronts: handball and offside.

But to speak of that Mexican injustice misses the point. Peter Crouch somehow, someway finds the back of the net for England at an astonishing, befuddling, flabbergasting, headscratching, have-to-rub-your-eyes-twice-when-you-read-the-numbers-to-make-sure-your-vision-hasn’t-failed-you… rate: 21 goals in just 38 matches, and 17 in the 18 he’s started. Perplexing to say the least.

One of the most dimensionally-awkward players in the history of the sport, Crouch, on paper, should seemingly be a role player, one where when you’re pumping the ball in the box late in a game you’re losing, he can ruffle a few defenders and even grab the odd goal.

But that is not Peter Crouch. In his finest moments, Crouch is an outstanding center-forward. Yet, he is not simply a CF for which you simply whip crosses in and let him tower over defenders to pluck easy goals. In fact, his heading accuracy and power is lamentably below-average, particularly for a man of his enormous stature. Oddly enough, it is his feet that are his best attribute.

For the beanpole that he is (just being realistic here, people), you would never expect Crouch to have a deft first touch. But his touch is remarkably efficient, as his long frame disguises the distance at which the ball bounces off his foot, for he can quickly get a second touch on it due to his long legs. This ability allows him to be quite good at holding up play for fellow players to join the attack, and with the array of attacking talent at England’s disposal, such abilities from the man playing with Wayne Rooney up front could prove vital in South Africa.

That ability to drop deep could, of course, cause problems because Rooney likes to do the same, but with Crouch, England have a striker whom they can pump the ball long towards and cause defenders problems with his height (see Mexico), or another option to play the short ball while he is stationed deep, allowing Rooney to play higher to run onto passes from Gerrard or Lampard.

And Rooney can, frankly, play up top with anyone, as he is England’s most positionally-intelligent player.  He can adapt to any striker he plays with, so fear not. Crouch simply provides more options for England (this without even mentioning the havoc he can wreak on set plays, particularly for teams lacking height).

The question for Capello is: what do you want that second CF to do? Because, sure, Emile Heskey can serve you as more of a battering ram, and can allow Rooney to impose himself on the match, but his hold-up play is a step below Crouch’s, and don’t even get started on actually putting the ball in the back of the net. The game is, and the World Cup this summer will be, determined by goals. And Crouch is simply on fire for his country in that department. So the question begs: a) Heskey, whom “Rooney plays better with?” Or b) a man that actually scores goals?

For England, Crouch has become a proficient finisher. Something about the international stage brings out the best in his scoring abilities, because at club level his numbers are quite pedestrian. In Liverpool’s 2006-07 run to the Champions League final, Crouch finished second to only Kaka (2007 world player of the year) in goals scored. Underscoring his surprising technical ability was his absolute stunner of a goal against Galatasary in the group stages that season. One of the great goals of the past decade:

There is something to these startling international statistics. In World Cup 2006, England won their first two matches with Crouch in the lineup alongside Michael Owen, scoring in the win over Trinidad and Tobago. In game three of the group phase, Rooney returned against Sweden, relegating Crouch to the bench. Crouch did not start again in the tournament as Sven-Goran Eriksson utilized Rooney as a lone striker to little effect.

Perhaps the reason Crouch excels in international settings is due to unfamiliarity. In England, clubs understand his abilities and his limits, they see him year in and year out. While there can be no doubt that the United States, Algeria and Slovenia will attempt to simulate defending Crouch in training (in the chance that he actually sees the field in SA), there is simply no player with his ridiculous height on the world stage, and simulation will prove fruitless because few players have his odd skill set. His 18 goals in 40 European appearances over the past 5 seasons, and his 21 goals in 38 England appearances prove that Europe and the rest of the world have found little success in stopping Crouch.

Even though soccer is hardly a game of statistics, another adage holds just as true: stats don’t lie. Peter Crouch scores goals for England, and it would be naive to see this stopping any time soon. He is a handful for defenses that don’t understand his unique game, and he gives England their best scoring option alongside their talisman Wayne Rooney. His record speaks for itself, and he deserves to start in South Africa.

What do you think? Leave comments below about your thoughts on the phenomenon that is Peter Crouch.

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