Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Andy Cole, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen. All members of the esteemed Premier League 100 goals club. Peter Crouch, celebrated for his amiable persona off the pitch, is about to join the 25-man list and remind us of the power of determination.
Crouch is understated, an unassuming and low-key footballer who reached 35 years old with no real fuss and furore. We all know what Crouch would have been if he wasn’t a footballer. His international goals to minute ratio betters than of Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer and his gangly stature makes him the most effective scorer by header in the Premier League era, but never has he once been the superstar. Barring any nightmares, the now-veteran striker will reach 100 goals in the coming weeks. There is no doubting it will be celebrated fittingly, but will he honestly be regarded in the same bracket as his honorary club’s counterparts?
Crouch started out his Premier League under recently passed Graham Taylor at Aston Villa after successful spells with Portsmouth and QPR. He scored on his debut and his impact was instant, but his scoring record in the midlands was generally uninspiring; a trend that would go on to hinder his reputation as a genuine goal threat. Hardship in terms of goals is something Crouch has dealt with for large parts of his career and barren spells have never truly dented his confidence.
A move to the south coast was up next. Southampton and significantly Harry Redknapp acquired his services in the season of 2004-05. His record in front of goal was much improved under Redknapp who trusted him as central to Southampton’s relegation battle. As the Saints were relegated, Crouch entered one of the most intriguing fragments of his career.
Liverpool followed. By then, Crouch carried with him the weight of being an England international and exactly that played against him as he endured another draught in front of goal. Fans always look for positives, the fabled ‘a good touch for a big man’ came to the fore but the media were disappointed in a Liverpool signing who had no solutions in front of goal. 24 hours of playing time later, Crouch was finally a Liverpool goal-scorer and later went onto play 12 minutes in the 2007 Champions League final. 22 goals was a respectable total for one of the world’s biggest clubs, but Crouch was ousted with the arrival of Fernando Torres. Big name signatures were to damage the latter stages of his career.
During his on-off spell in Merseyside, Crouch remained cheery and endeared the public with his robot celebration which became the ‘thing’ of 2006. It was used as part of a Comic Relief sketch, the subject of newspaper inches, but what people most enjoyed was that Crouch sincerely appreciated his career; he was humble, fun and a pleasure to watch. Labelled affectionately as ‘Crouchy’ by many, the comical persona is as pleasing as the goal scorer.
Later, Crouch rekindled his previously productive relationship with Harry Redknapp. His second spell at Portsmouth was respectable, but again, only that. He forged a fruitful partnership with Jermain Defoe where little and large was effective, but large was very often assisting little. As soon as Redknapp had left to replace Tottenham’s Juande Ramos, Crouch soon followed.
His career at Tottenham was deprived of goals, but Crouch was the man for the big occasion. Very seldom the star in his career, Crouch scored the winner against Man City in the 4th place play-off and consequently scored the pivotal goal in a famous 0-1 victory against AC Milan at the San Siro. His Champions League record was outstanding, but Emmanuel Adebayor’s loan to Tottenham ended Crouch’s tenure.
Currently at Stoke City, Crouch was termed ‘a credit to his profession’ by the manager Mark Hughes last weekend. It’s never been just football. A series of entertaining tweets has seen the largely critical ‘Football twitter’ learn to love him. When Pellegrini said he wanted a big English striker in 2015, Crouch insisted he was happy at Stoke. He lamented FIFA’s decision-making as he once more was left out of the Ballon D’or shortlist. He’s been filmed dancing alone in Ibiza, crowd surfed at a Kasabian gig and pictured looking particularly intoxicated with their lead singer. He has never overstepped the line and remained focused on his football.
More recently, one user said ‘You ruin my life on FIFA’, he candidly responded ‘at least I’m getting a game somewhere’. No malice, no bitterness, Crouch was just having fun. Mark Hughes saw the amusing side and a few months later he was rewarded with a return to Stoke’s first team and is on a hot run of form that will see him reach 100. Crouch has thrived on these big occasions. Most likely frustrated that he may never reach his target, the ex-England international responded and stepped up to the mark.
Peter Crouch will never be remembered as a prolific, aesthetically pleasing Premier League striker. Multiple goal draughts have been detrimental to his reputation as a footballer but one constant in his career is his likeability. Like many of the people who watch him, Crouch doesn’t have natural premier ability. He is the epitome of hard work and willpower, traits that people can truly relate to. Didier Drogba was a powerhouse, Sergio Aguero scores goals out of nothing, Matt Le Tissier was a scorer of wonderful goals, Peter Crouch is the one who took the best part of 15 years to reach his accolade. But Mark Hughes was right, Crouch is a true credit to his profession. Crouch didn’t have the stature or ability to become a world class forward, but he made the most of what he had and 100 Premier League goals is a fitting appreciation of that.