Post-international rant: Liverpool hampered

Posted by Paul Tomkins on October 13, 2005, 10:12:55 AM

International football – who needs it? At times, I feel Liverpool do not.

Peter Crouch has joined John Barnes in the list of Liverpool players undeservedly mocked, or worse, while representing England. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard has returned from the England camp with a calf injury, not long after an England game aggravated a similar problem. Fernando Morientes has not been since since the last set of international matches.

I was totally disgusted, if far from surprised, by the treatment Peter Crouch received playing for his country, both by the ironic cheers whenever he won a header, and from the pressmen who slaughtered him after the Austria match.

But the booing of his introduction last night, against Poland, was the final straw. Then again, what do you expect from a bunch of morons? At least Crouch won't have to play for England again at Old Trafford.

In fairness, some journalists were accurate and fair to Crouch after the Austria match. I read a few reports praising Crouch, saying his performance mirrored those for Liverpool: very good link play (England's best chances came from his quick thinking), clever feet, but not enough threat at goal. 

But those who slated him propagated the hatred. In the two games Crouch has started for his country, England have won both. In the other –– last night –– he came on as a sub at 1-1 and England quickly scored to win the game.

It's not like England have been winning, or even drawing, lots of their other recent games. Liverpool have only lost one match in which he's played. Perhaps too early to be conclusive, it might tell a small story.

Dilemma

All players want to represent their country, and though you may get injured players on their return, if you deny your players the chance to join up you will have problems, and future targets will not join a club that may jeopardise their international ambitions.

All players know that their club form is the first priority, but the World Cup remains the greatest football spectacle on earth. To be there is their ultimate ambition.

But with the money Football Associations around the world are making from the game, you'd think some kind of compensation to the clubs for injuries would be automatic. Liverpool's hopes haven't been helped by the international game, especially with an already overcrowded fixture list and a phenomenal amount of games this season.

But what about the psychological damage? Crouch should have returned from his first two competitive England matches feeling seven feet tall (okay, you know what I mean). Instead he must feel smaller than Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Crouch is fast becoming my cause célèbre. The more I see him play, the more I realise how good he is. Jamie Redknapp's comment about Crouch having Brazilian feet and vision are not an exaggeration. Crouch does not have a good touch for a big man. He has a brilliant touch, full stop.

He will need to start scoring goals to ease the criticism, but talk of a goal drought is a little premature, given the games he's missed this season.

Abuse

The tabloids are there to sell papers and make money; the broadsheets tend to take the approach that their readers might appreciate a little bit of thought.

Two hacks, Paul McCarthy and Brian Woolnough, exhibited a frightening lack of understanding of the game of football when speaking on the Jimmy Hill show on Sky on Sunday. "He can't play" screamed Woolnough. They laughed at Crouch.

Crouch is easy to mock. McCarthy and Woolnough came across like boorish school bullies, mocking the afflicted. (Woolnough, with his super-large head, should not be so quick to laugh at others.) These people may be very fine journalists, but understanding football is something entirely different.

Like a lot of people, I always regarded Crouch as a bit of a joke until I actually started paying attention to him. It occurred to me that I'd never really seen him play, or studied his game. But people who get paid to watch football and comment on it should see enough of players, and understand what they are seeing. You don't have to watch Crouch for long to see his qualities.

Watch Crouch's passing. There was an example for England where he played Michael Owen in with a beautifully weighted through ball. For me, "proper" players can control a ball and weight a pass.

One thing I always look for is a pass made to a running player: as a footballer, you need to calculate the weight of that pass to perfection, into the space ahead of the player, so he neither has to break stride or desperately sprint to get to it.

Crouch has that. It may sound a simple skill, but it's amazing how many players, in advantageous positions, fractionally over-hit or under-hit the ball, and the move loses momentum.

An example of Crouch's subtle skill: late in the game against Austria a difficult looping high ball came towards him.

Instead of trying to head it, he cannily backed into the defender (not unlike Dalglish might have – Kenny's backside was one of his greatest weapons) until the ball came down low enough for him to cushion a perfect pass to Lampard. Lampard took an extra touch, but had he hit it first time he stood a good chance of scoring. Crouch set up Cissé in identical fashion in a CL qualifying game.

Had any of these journalists ever kicked a football in their lives they might recognise what a difficult skill it was. Or the quality of his other contributions.

Football is all about opinions. But that is no excuse to be idiotic. On the BBC we had Graeme Le Saux (who has kicked a ball in his life, as well as punching a teammate), widely touted as an intelligent man despite his awful bumbling co-commentaries, saying Crouch should have been substituted, and not Owen, when England had to play a lone striker after going down to ten men against Austria.

Le Saux said you would want Owen's pace for the long ball over the top, as an escape option. That's his opinion, and he's entitled to it. It has a certain amount of logic, and at least Le Saux has an understanding of the game, even if he struggles to articulate it.

What worries me is that Le Saux said he "could not understand" the decision to stick with Crouch (a player he rates, incidentally). He seemed totally perplexed. If you cannot see the benefit of sticking with Crouch, why are working as an 'expert'?

Whatever your opinion, you should be able to see the value inherent in two alternative approaches, even if you prefer one over the other. Football is rarely black and white. There is often no right or wrong; just decisions which you hope work out better than the alternatives. 

Then we had John Motson, the most confused and befuddled man in football, saying that he never understands Sven Goran Eriksson's substitutions. Well frankly, I can never understand John Motson. (Unlike Martin Tyler, who actually seems to understand the game he's been covering for donkey's years.)

It's not too difficult to understand how Crouch's ability to win headers and hold the ball up would offer a sensible solution for a team lacking numbers, who needed to hold onto their 1-0 advantage. After all, Owen is not noted for playing as a lone striker. He was a disaster in the role for England in Ireland, and that was with a full complement of players against lesser opposition.

I just don't think Crouch needed the nation hearing Le Saux's ill-judged comments.(Le Saux was at it again last night: "You can't allow Rooney to come in your box". Grandmothers everywhere were turning pale at the thought.)

Last night I flicked channels but mostly watched France, to see how Cissé was doing (he looked super-sharp, although he missed a hatful of chances, either from bad luck or bad finishing), and only tuned into England once Crouch was on. I was desperate for him to ram the taunts back down the throats of the idiots in the crowd. Not that they would appreciate anything he did.

Blackburn

Cissé did score for France at the weekend, his 4th for Les Bleus this season, and in Gerrard's absence I'd like to see Crouch and Cissé together in a 4-4-2 formation, with Sissoko alongside Alonso in the midfield. But that's just my preference.

Crouch and Cissé link very well whenever they play together, but I can also see why Rafa has wanted a midfield containing Gerrard, Alonso and either Sissoko or Hamann. 

But as I have just said, there are always plenty of different approaches, and on any given day, in the circumstances that arise, anything can happen. I prefer to try and understand what a manager is doing, rather than saying I definitely know better.

©Paul Tomkins 2005

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