No manager, no captain, no Rooney for the first two games, no visible or viable philosophy, no hope: it is fair to say that England have very few, if any, expectations going into EURO 2012.
There is plenty of realistic scepticism. Get the tournament out of the way and deal with the real issues in youth football, the quality of coaching and the general state of English football. Developing a footballing nation takes generations of development and well-structured planning, something that is completely irrelevant to the current crop of players. EURO 2012 is a write-off for England.
Whoever does become England manager will be criticised whichever way they choose to approach the tournament, such is the diverse opinion of English football collectively. Too much youth will be not taking enough experience and naively placing too much hope on young shoulders, while too much experience will be a return to the old guard. Same old, same old.
But it is a return to a player from the old guard which could be best for this tournament (and it may only be this tournament alone, which is perfectly fine).
To like Peter Crouch is unfashionable, and not just because he’s quite tall. His height makes his every movement seem comically clumsy, almost accidental, making him immediately unfavourable for the top level of international football.
He is easily mocked: the attempts at overhead kicks which almost always fail; his persistent airborne-fouling which, given his height-superiority over most players, is rather odd; his lack of aerial prowess and general heading ability; and the robotic dance moves, moving him more towards a character from a James Corden sketch rather than an actual footballer.
Make no mistake, though, Crouch is a good footballer. And this isn’t a reactionary piece after his wonder goal on Saturday, either, as Crouch has been in good, solid form for Stoke all season. Crouch is excellent at dropping deep, linking the play well and actually looking to find a man rather than just flicking the ball on blindly and hoping for the best.
Crouch is effective rather than stylish and, while it is easy to criticise the 31-year-old in this tiki-taka world, he’s very good at what he does. Let’s be clear, England can’t play like Barcelona and aren’t going to for some time (if ever at all). There’s nothing wrong with a long ball flicked on for someone to run on to and score – it might not be pretty or any use for the future of English football but, if it works, it’ll do, for now.
Taking Crouch would be another option, both personnel-wise and in terms of system. If a fluid attack of two wingers and Welbeck or Rooney centrally isn’t working, bring Crouch off the bench, have Rooney in behind, the two wingers whipping balls in and Steven Gerrard delivering from deep. A change of offensive system for England would mean a change of defensive system for their opponents – Crouch would simply give defenders something different to worry about.
It would be far too simplistic to look at Crouch’s international record and say that he only scores against the lesser nations. A hat-trick against Jamaica, two against Greece and two against Belarus are probably the highlights, and his last international goal was in a friendly match against France in 2010, but his record (22 in 42) still commands respect. And, really, England struggle to score against lesser nations even now – at least Crouch is something of a threat, no matter the opposition.
If Crouch’s weekend strike showed anything – other than a lack of intensity to close down on City’s part – it was that Crouch is supremely confident right now.
With 12 goals in 28 appearances, Crouch is Stoke’s top goalscorer this season. Of course, there are arguments for other ‘big man up top’ options – Norwich City’s Grant Holt has impressed in the Premier League, scoring 13 in 19 games. He is perhaps better in the air than Crouch and is an expert at drawing fouls. And, like Crouch, he maybe is a victim of playing for a less-than-fashionable club.
And to argue for or against one another is not the point here – they both have their plus-points, both have their significant negatives – but it is to say that Crouch is, at the very least, a viable option and should not be discredited as such simply because he has ‘had his time’ and England ‘are moving on’.
If England really want to move on they need to keep the quality on the pitch to a respectable level whilst doing some serious graft behind the scenes.
EURO 2012 might be a write-off but England, it surely goes without saying, should still be looking to put in the best performances they possibly can.
They’re not going to do that by leaving one of the most in-form strikers at home who, whether fashionable or not, can play to the strengths of certain England players. Gerrard would benefit, Rooney, Sturridge and Young would benefit from running in behind. England would benefit.
Picture from The Guardian