Why blame Crouch?

Liverpool fans support Liverpool. Note the full-stop after the word Liverpool. If you asked most Reds supporters how they feel about their international team, you’ll find most of them aren’t really all that bothered. That goes especially for the English Liverpool fans.

When a World Cup or European Championships Finals tournament comes around then we’ll watch the matches and pretty much start to get into it. England may feature some Liverpool players, so we’ll cheer them on and wish them well. If they lose it’s not the end of the world. At next summer’s World Cup we may even be more interested in the fortunes of Spain, especially if Xabi and co get to play a starring role.

In a lot of cases Liverpool supporters are more interested in the fortunes of Ireland, because in a lot of cases Liverpool supporters are Irish enough to at least qualify to play for Ireland. The England national team tends to be more representative of England South. Not so much for where the players themselves may be from, but for the way that the coverage they get is written by the newspapers’ southern reporters. Even though the latest internationals have been played at Old Trafford, the slant is always on England South.

We wrote a couple of days ago about our frustration at Steven Gerrard picking up an injury on duty for England. The frustration was increased because the organisation that benefits from England’s success on the field, the FA, were giving Liverpool a hard time by saying they must pay compensation to Sunderland if they are to represent Europe in the World Club Championships in the summer.

Liverpool fans tend to treat their players like family. It’s OK for us to criticise a player, but if anyone else wants to have a go at them we’ll close ranks and defend them. For years criticism of Liverpool players by Liverpool fans was confined to the pub before the game, or a quiet chat to mates when waiting for kick-off. Once the players were on the pitch they’d all be supported 100%. Nowadays the internet brings us the chance to air views on a forum, readable by anyone, or in phone-ins, which are listened to by many. 

This means that the reservations some fans have about new-boy Peter Crouch are being aired to people who aren’t necessarily Liverpool fans. In terms of his appearances so far for Liverpool, nobody can say with any certainty one way or the other whether he is going to be a star or not. He’s not played badly, he’s not set the world on fire. In many ways he’s being used in a system that doesn’t get the best out of him, and Liverpool’s failed attempts at bringing in wingers means he’ll probably not be playing in a system that suits him for a few months yet.

Unfortunately for Crouchy, he’s joined Liverpool at the same time as he’s broken into the England squad, and that coincided with the English press deciding that they’ve had enough of Sven Goran Eriksson. Now that they’ve had enough of him, they need to find as many ways as possible to bring him down. No matter what he does now, the press will find fault in everything he does. And it seems that the easiest target now is Peter Crouch.

David James, an ex-Red, has had a career that could have been so much better. Too many mistakes, capitalised on by both opposing strikers and a press looking for fun mean that James was never going to be turned into a legend. He’s now pretty much out of the England picture after his last performance in the shirt, meaning the press needed to find someone new.

It’s too early for them to bring Wayne Rooney down. As an ex-Evertonian now playing for Manchester United he’s never going to have many fans on our side of Liverpool, but the press are just about letting him get away with his regular acts of mischief. Wayne can only enjoy this for a short while longer – if he doesn’t get at least one hat-trick in the World Cup finals then his days will be numbered.

In defence they’ve had a bit of a go at Rio Ferdinand, but with the centre-half position so well covered they’ve little need to blame anybody there. Full-backs may come into question before the players go to Germany, but with the two first-choice ones out of contention the papers were happy to leave alone.

Midfield has been the place to find fault for some extent for the media. Claims that Lampard and Gerrard can’t play together in the centre make me wonder how Chelsea would have been able to manage it had they finally been able to get their man. Beckham can rarely do any wrong, although they’ve insisted that out wide is the only place he should be used. On the left they are delighted to see Joe Cole, a local boy playing for a local team. Cole’s habit of forgetting he has any team-mates is conveniently overlooked.

So we have to look up front. For years Owen was built up and then knocked down. Score a lucky goal in a game and he’s a hero. Miss two difficult chances and he’s lost his touch. Actually analysing what he did in a game was rarely done – headlines were needed, and the stories were written to help the headline writers. At the moment the papers are still waiting for him to get over his Newcastle honeymoon period, after which they’ll no doubt start to find new stories about him. We are expecting stories about Owen underperforming due to the fatigue of travelling from North Wales to the North East every day.

So in the meantime it’s Peter Crouch who’s the subject of the press attempts to get Eriksson kicked out. Even though he’s got his team into the finals of the tournament, he’s not wanted, and they’d love to get him out before then.

As well as the press claiming Crouch was no good, so are the pundits. We don’t mean the journalists that congregate on Sky Sports on a Sunday morning for Jimmy Hill’s show. That’s a show we rarely watch nowadays, and when we do it’s never the whole programme. Jimmy Hill is actually the least annoying person sitting at the table each week, a feat which many would never have believed possible. The other guests show that their written work is only the tip of the iceberg of how unkind they’ve had to become in order to be able to keep their editors happy.

The pundits we are talking about include a former professional who was a hero of ours for many years. He picked up numerous medals as a winner with Liverpool, on many occasions as club captain, but since leaving Anfield he’s not always seen eye to eye with Reds supporters. Still a Liverpool fan we believe, and still friends with the legend that is Kenny Dalglish, he’ll have to a do a lot to be as disliked as some former Reds players, but Hansen needs to be a little more careful in his live work. Hansen was very critical of Peter Crouch on Saturday on duty for BBC TV. By the time he’d written his website column for the BBC his words had been chosen a little more carefully. By now he was saying: “The England coach tried Peter Crouch on Saturday and he did not play that badly, but he is not that mobile.”

Crouch himself wants another crack at playing for England – he said of his partnership with ex-Red Owen: “I think it worked well, Michael is a top class player and I enjoyed playing with him. It was disappointing it got broken up.”

It was broken up because England were down to ten men. Whether Beckham deserved to be booked prior to getting his second yellow card and being sent off is irrelevant. As England captain Beckham knew he needed to be careful after he’d got his first yellow. The fact that he wasn’t against a Spanish referee who will no doubt be familiar with him was always going to lead to trouble. No real criticism of Beckham though, just criticism of the 10 men left on the pitch.

Amongst all the criticism are some encouraging words from a man that the London press have on their shortlist for next England manager. Sam Allardyce has worked wonders at Bolton, and although he’s rubbed Rafa Benitez up the wrong way with his tactics against the Reds, he got Bolton into Europe, and unlike Everton got them into the group stages of the UEFA Cup. He writes for the Times, and he said he disagreed strongly with those that claim Crouch failed to prove his worth on Saturday. Big Same said: “For me, he had a decent game and, if anything, he proved what a weapon he could be in the World Cup next summer. OK, he didn’t score, but he helped to set up the goal with the flick-on that led to Michael Owen being held back for the penalty. He also played Owen in a couple more times and always put the ball into the right spaces, whether it came to him in the air or on the ground. Maybe these are subtle things that will have gone unnoticed by most people watching, but I have no doubt that Sven-Göran Eriksson will have been happy with the job Crouch did.”

And that last comment is the one which we are hoping that Peter Crouch is listening to. Crouch is an intelligent player, and most of the criticism of him is preceded by a critical reference to his height or his build. Allardyce points out that many of England’s available strikers are similar in physique to Owen, but more to the point are similar in the way they play. These players are handy to have if Owen should be injured or suspended, but offering nothing to help Sven have a different tactical option.

Allardyce puts the Crouch option into perspective: “…if you’ve got a centre forward who is 6ft 7in and is going to win a high percentage of the balls played to him in the air, that’s very hard for the opposition to counter. If that centre forward also happens to be good on the ground, good with his back to goal and intelligent in what he does with the ball, that’s going to be even harder. I’m not saying I would start with him, but I am saying it’s a great option.”

Allardyce has probably shot himself in the foot now if he wanted the England job. The FA are well-known for listening to the press (rather than the public) and Allardyce has now defended their latest scapegoat. Allardyce says that those that have dismissed Crouch are “ignorant”, saying that they “are not watching him closely enough to appreciate what he does.

Allardyce’s words will no doubt be of comfort to Crouch, as he says, “I like him a lot as a player and I think you will find that a lot of people in the game feel the same way.”

For Liverpool now there is a need for the fans to get behind Crouchy, help him to get that first goal and to settle in a little more. Rafa Benitez will no doubt be using the break to assess his options and don’t be surprised to see a more attack-minded Liverpool in the next game at the weekend. Rather than a groan at every mistake or every time something doesn’t quite come off, a shout of “hard luck” would be more encouraging.

As for England, well it’s up to them what they do with Crouch. We aren’t really all that bothered. As a certain Reds defender once said, “**** it, it’s only England”.