Peter Crouch seems to be getting better and better with every game – without yet hitting the back of the net. Yesterday at home to Portsmouth he even tried to get his first goal out of the way by stepping up to take a penalty. The penalty was saved (although Zenden scored from the rebound) and another game went by without a goal for the summer signing. Despite the criticism he may get from elsewhere in football, he knows he’s well supported by the Reds fans and staff.
Crouch causes trouble for opposition defences. He’s had a part to play in many of Liverpool’s goals this season one way or another. When he saw Portsmouth’s Jamie Ashdown saved his spot-kick yesterday he still didn’t let his head go down, still kept plugging away, and that is what will make him a hero at Anfield, more than even goals would. Reds fans want success, and want every player wearing that Red shirt to give 100%. Crouch certainly does, and when the goals start there’ll no doubt be a flood of them.
Manager Rafael Benitez is well aware of the importance of having the supporters behind the players, and speaking after the game he spoke of how he himself has the same opinion on Crouch – as long as he working hard he’ll do for us. Rafa said: "He knows that the supporters are with him, he will continue working and trying. The problem will be if he starts saying ‘it’s difficult’ or ‘it’s impossible’ and then stops working hard. If he continues playing like this then it is okay by me, I do not worry while he is playing as well as this. It is only important to continue winning and playing well. And we are doing that."
It’s now four victories in a row for the Reds, three league and one Champions League win – putting the nightmare days behind them when the knee-jerk reaction to the two London defeats (including elimination from the Carling Cup) made it sound like their season was over. Now Liverpool are six points behind second-placed Wigan, with a game-in-hand. On Wednesday they host Real Betis in the Champions League needing just one point to qualify for the last 16 as they continue their defence of that title.
Rafa feels that the goals for Crouch are on their way, thanks to the quality of hard work the striker is putting in: "It is a pity that this keeps going on because everything else he does is fine, and he is doing all I ask of him. He had good movement, he did a lot of excellent work for the team in the air and on the ground. But I hope to soon see the first goal for him and we will then see a more relaxed, more confident player."
Whether Rafa would be as happy with Crouch not scoring if Liverpool were losing is another question, but the contribution of the player is helping to ensure this good run of form for the Reds. Rafa continued: "In terms of the game I have no problems with him. If we play like we are now, creating so many chances, he will score. The question is when. For me it is not important who scores, Carra or Crouch, only that we do score and we win. I am happy with him."
Another of Crouch’s endearing qualities is his honesty. He comes across in interviews as a genuinely nice guy, although that is something Rafa wants him to lose on the pitch. Most strikers who’d gone through such a barren spell would by now be heading for councelling sessions at some clinic or other, but not Crouch. He’s still confident in his abilities, and decided himself he was going to have a go at the penalty – even though two other succesful penalty takers from this season (Gerrard and Cisse) were also available to take it. After the game Crouch said: "I made the decision to take the penalty. I am so desperate to score I will take any chance I can that comes along. I am certainly not going to hide. I picked up the ball and felt confident. But it was a fine save and I was just happy Bolo was there to finish it off. Maybe the lads won’t let me take another one now but I will always be confident and always want the opportunity."
Crouch said that he feels his last-minute change of mind on where to hit meant the goalkeeper got his save: "I wanted it, and I have taken a few before and put it in that corner, but this time I changed my mind at the last minute over what I was going to do. But I have contributed to a good win and that is what is most important, but obviously I am desperate to score at the moment."
Maybe Crouch can be grateful for good words on his behalf from previous Reds strikers. There’s no doubting that Ian Rush and John Aldridge are Anfield legends, their contributions during Liverpool’s glorious eighties will mean they’ll always be so. Crouch has it in his power to be a legend himself as soon as the goals start coming. Rafa Benitez says he has regular chats with the likes of Rush and Aldridge, and he says he’s happy to listen to their points of view. Says Rafa: "Many of the players who comment on Liverpool are legends and they deserve to be listened to. You can’t always be thinking about their reaction, because you can’t change things. But it is better to hear things from them and maybe to learn things from them too."
Rafa still doesn’t seem to be fully confident in his own English abilities (he sounds OK to us), but he does try and take in what the legends say when he gets a chance to listen to them: "I like to talk with them. Sometimes my English is not the best but I like to speak to them. After the Crystal Palace game, for instance, I spoke to John Aldridge and we talked about the game and the future. Players like him, or Ian Rush, they have experience of this club, of the Premiership, or playing in other countries. Ian can talk about the differences when he was playing for Juventus and John can talk about Real Sociedad. This helps you learn about how different things can be in other countries."
Former boss Gerard Houllier reportedly banned various ex-Reds from Anfield because they publicly criticised his tactics, the likes of Ian St John and Alan Kennedy amongst others. Benitez takes on board what is said to him, accepting it for what it is – somebody’s opinion and constructive criticism or advice. He says of the former numbers eight and nine: "People like that are really positive and they try to support me. If it was someone else they would try to do the same for him because they are legends and want the best for the club."
Anyone who heard John Aldridge’s commentary work for local radio during the Champions League final can’t be in any doubt about Aldo’s love of the club, and his playing record speaks for itself. That’s exactly why Rafa is prepared to give them his ear: "They like Liverpool, but sometimes they say things because they think they need to be said and I am fine with that."