Liverpool forward Peter Crouch is not expecting any guarantees that he’ll play today against the club he started his career with, and is unperturbed at the likelihood he’ll be watching the game from the stands. Crouch signed his first professional terms with today’s opponents Spurs, but never actually played for the North London side. Despite accepting his role in Rafa’s system, he doesn’t appreciate the stories that are spun from actual facts.
The Mail’s Joe Bernstein took some quotes from Rafa Benitez – quotes interestingly enough that haven’t appeared elsewhere – and turned them into proof that Crouch was leaving. To add a bit of extra spice to the story he made out that the England international would be leaving on his own terms, when he was ready.
Bernstein’s article starts off with this bold statement: “Rafa Benitez is heading for a major fall-out with Peter Crouch as he tries to force the England striker out of Anfield in the January transfer window. The Liverpool manager has decided to cash in on Crouch as soon as possible after confirming that he has a £20 million budget to spend on new players in the new year.”
Then he stirs it up further, adding: “…but the player, who has 18 months left on his contract, is determined to stay put until the summer unless he gets the right move for his future. Benitez’s patience with his centre-forward has finally snapped after Crouch’s lacklustre performance in the 1-0 midweek defeat by Marseille and he is unlikely to play against Tottenham today.”
Crouch probably won’t play today, with Rafa continuing his policy of choosing three of his four strikers in the 16-strong match-day squad. That’s nothing new. Crouch’s performances this season – when he has been selected – have been below the standards that earned him so much support from Reds when he first joined, and which helped him become top scorer last season. But to say Rafa’s “patience finally snapped” because of Wednesday night’s performance would mean the Spaniard will also be selling at least nine other players as soon as he can.
Casually adding John Arne Riise to the “for sale” list, Bernstein finally puts some quotes into his article; quotes which actually don’t mention selling any players. The quote from Rafa does mention buying players though: “We’ve been working on buying new players since the beginning of September. We do not have problems in the financial area because we have sold a lot of players. We have around 35m euros (£20.7m).” In fact 35m euros is closer to £24m, but let’s not get bogged down by that.
The only other quote from Rafa in Bernstein’s article is from the boss explaining his anger at the performance against Marseille, and his decision to call everyone together to go over what went wrong: “We were really bad as a team so the staff and I and the players had to be together. I was really disappointed. And I was angry. But you cannot change anything by being angry. You need to analyse.”
Meanwhile the Sunday Mirror had some quotes from Crouch himself. He started by stating the obvious, then made it clear he wasn’t happy with the stories in the papers: “I am like any footballer, I want to play as many matches as possible and of course I am disappointed when I’m not in the team, but for people to suggest I have a problem with how Rafa Benitez manages Liverpool just isn’t true.”
Crouch says Rafa has told him not to change, to play his normal game: “Rafa has told me I don’t have to prove myself to him. He doesn’t want me to try to do things that aren’t normally a part of my game. He just wants me to concentrate on doing the things that made him bring me to Liverpool in the first place. Over the course of the season I believe I’ll get enough chances to show what I am capable of and I will be part of a successful team at Liverpool.”
Crouch’s unusual height seems to give many pundits the green light to dispense unfair criticism, and he says it’s nothing new: “It seems like I have had questions asked about me all the way through my career – and I’ve found that the best place to answer them is in front of goal. Now I am playing for a high-profile club like Liverpool and I am an England international, the spotlight is on me more than ever, but I’d like to remind people that last year the manager brought Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy and we also had Robbie Fowler.”
He answered his critics on the pitch last season: “There were question marks over my role and how many goals I would score, yet I ended up being Liverpool’s top goalscorer and I felt I had a great season.”
The talk from Bernstein of him wanting out in January seem to be far from true when listening to Crouch: “Liverpool are going places and like every other player I am excited by the prospect that this might be our year to mount a challenge for the title, but it is going to be a tough game against Spurs. They have had an indifferent start to the campaign and that will hurt all of their players.”
Unless Rafa wins the league the rotation obsession from the critics will not go away. And when performances are unconvincing and results aren’t going the Reds’ way the critics will be keeping their knives sharp. Another annoying interruption thanks to international fixtures looms after today’s fixture, and the only chance Liverpool have of changing the topics of articles about them for the next couple of weeks is to put in a convincing performance against Spurs today. Spurs’ poor start to the season means they are due a win, and due to show their true abilities, meaning Liverpool need to go into this game prepared.
This game could be a defining moment in the season for the Reds – a chance to prove they can bounce back from a relatively bad spell.