Peter Crouch has shone for the likes of Southampton, Portsmouth, Tottenham and Stoke City – but he will always look back on his spell at Liverpool as the best period of his career.
Liverpool had just won the Champions League in 2005 when they spent £7million to sign Crouch, who had scored 16 goals in 33 appearances in all competitions for relegated Southampton.
The striker had to wait 19 matches before he finally broke his duck for the Reds but went on to produce a number of memorable moments for the Merseysiders.
He scored the winner against Manchester United in the FA Cup as Liverpool went on to win the competition, bagged a perfect hat-trick to sink Arsenal and scored brilliant overhead kicks against Bolton and Galatasaray, while also playing in a Champions League final.
“The best period of my career came at Liverpool under Rafa Benitez,” he says. “I was scoring goals regularly in a side that was challenging in the Champions League and we had real chances to be crowned as European champions in the 2007 final against AC Milan.
“I scored eight Champions League goals that season and we deserved to be in that final, but it wasn’t to be. That is one of the big regrets of my career because that final was there for us and it slipped away.
“We had a good Liverpool team then and I felt like a focal point of it. It was also a time when I was England’s centre-forward and I scored 11 goals for England in 2006 to highlight that I was doing something right at international level as well.”
Crouch left Anfield in 2008, spending a season at Portsmouth before joining Tottenham, where he once more played Champions League football as part of a thrilling side which took the competition by storm.
“We had some great times under Harry Redknapp,” says Crouch, who also admits he has “unfinished business” at Stoke next season. “My goal to get the club into the Champions League for the first time at Man City stands out as a highlight.
“That was one of the most important goals in my career because it was massive for Spurs. They had been trying to get into the Champions League for a long time and then we did it. It was a great night.
“Then we had a run to the quarter-finals in the Champions League the next season. We beat Inter Milan and AC Milan, when I scored the winner, and came up short against Real Madrid after I got sent off in the second leg at the Bernabeu.
“It was a great team, with Gareth Bale flying and some good players in there. That European run was fantastic to be a part of.”
Despite scoring seven Champions League goals in Spurs’ run to the quarter-finals, Crouch found himself out of favour with the England set-up, winning his last cap in November 2010 – when he typically came on as a substitute against France and scored with his second touch to leave his international record reading 22 goals in 42 appearances.
However, over his five-year international career, Crouch managed to appear in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, scoring in the former against Trinidad and Tobago.
“I was lucky to be part of England squads with some great players, but for a lot of reasons, we never quite managed to get the results we should have done with that set of players.
“Of course, players always have to take responsibility for performances, but we probably didn’t have the right managers in 2006 and 2010 to get the best out of the talent we had.
“You look at the squad lists and John Terry, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen are top, top players. We should have been able to get a good team out of that and there are a lot more names you could add to that list.
“What we couldn’t do was gel as a unit. That was not because we didn’t get on as guys together because that was never an issue for me. Also, anyone who said we didn’t care enough is talking nonsense as we wanted to win the World Cup more than anyone, but it didn’t happen.
“I look back at 2006 and we won our first group games, like England did at this World Cup. The difference was, we didn’t win them convincingly at all. We beat Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago, but we were not great in either game and there was nothing like the mood of optimism with the fans or the press that we have seen with England this summer.
“The problem is, we have already seen how quickly the mood can change around England at a World Cup. We all went into this saying it was a young team, they probably wouldn’t get far, getting out of the group would be decent.
“Now they win a couple of games and we are winning the tournament! That is how it has always been with England and I’m the same now that I’m a fan. It’s hard not to get swept along by those emotions.”
While he may rue a lack of success with England, Crouch still takes great pride in how he became a favourite of managers and supporters alike.
There has always been a sense that Crouch, because of his physical size and shape, has had to prove himself to people who question his technical ability.
“That may be true. The way I look, the fact that people just see me as a target man to whack the ball up to, you have to prove you are more than that.
“I’ve always had confidence in my ability and not just in the air, but some managers and experts take some convincing about that and that has been a theme running through my career.
“Even when I was doing well for Liverpool and England and then on to Tottenham in the Champions League, some people didn’t really give me the respect you might expect when you are performing at that level of the game, but you can answer those doubters on the pitch.”
“I had doubts at the start of my career that I would reach the top and there have been so many hurdles along the way, but I look back now and it just amazes me what I have achieved.
“I left school when I was 16 and now I am 37, preparing for my 21st pre-season and still loving the game as much as I have always done. Whatever anyone says about me, I can look back on my career and feel very proud of what I have achieved.”
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By Kevin Palmer