Tottenham Hotspur’s signing of Peter Crouch for £9m is the most significant element in Harry Redknapp’s team building since he took over as manager. However, most fans, including me, will be resigned rather than excited at the prospect.
Signings in the January window were all about expediency, taking who was available, less about the long term and much more about Premier League survival. As soon as Redknapp had some options available, there was a dreary inevitability about his choice, despite his media protestations to the contrary (see my Harrywatch page). Harry likes a big man up front and Harry knows what works in the Premier League. Never mind my reservations: Crouch is a decent player and the fact is, why should a man like Huntelaar leave Real Madrid for a team with a proud history but which is not even in Europe. Perhaps we should take what we can get and make the best of it.
I saw Crouch play for Spurs reserves on a couple of occasions, and whilst he looked all right, there was no hint that he could become one of the most sought after and traded strikers in the country, let alone an international. He’s been lucky, playing in an era when top class British strikers have been in short supply. Also, the current fashionable tactics allow for a single central striker, with attacking midfielders cum strikers working around him.
However, Crouch is no Torres or Berbatov, both intelligent, gifted footballers as adept in front of goal as they are setting up teammates with a touch or pass. Crouch on a bad day is a static target man, content to offer scraps to his colleagues. His spell with Southampton showed he was much more than this. I’m not talking so much about his clichéd ‘great touch for a big man’, rather about how effective he looked with the ball to head or feet but crucially in front of him. Give him something to run on to and not be content for him to goal hang or stand with his back to goal.
Crouch himself is not the problem. It’s what everyone does around him that’s important. Fill the team with limited players and Crouch becomes the focus for aimless long ball rubbish. Introduce intelligence and creativity and he becomes just one attacking option, around which the team can flow.
With Crouch up front, team mates under pressure always have an out ball. As he holds on to the ball or even when it is in the air, precious moments are created for our midfield to get forward and turn defence into attack. This helps our defensive play too, reducing anxiety for attacking midfielders wondering whether or not to fall back.
Fine, but they must not be tempted to use that option too readily. England fall into this trap whenever he plays. Men like Modric and Keane can work around him, with pass and move the best way forward, whilst Defoe and Jenas with his runs from deep can work off him, looking for touches and flicks. But when Lennon has the ball, Crouch must time it right and meet it on the run, or drift to the back post for a cross goal header. Immediately several options open up, but it’s what the others do that will make it a success, not just wait around for Crouch to take the pressure.