by Dom Smith
“For me, it’s irrelevant.” Peter Crouch is speaking to EnglandFootball.org about the six-game winless run on which England headed into the World Cup. The 6ft 7in striker retired in 2019 while at Burnley, and scored 22 goals in 42 games in an England career that spanned five years and took in two World Cups.
“England hadn’t got to a tournament semi-final for 22 years, then two come along at once”, Crouch says about the tournament campaigns of the current England team under Gareth Southgate’s stewardship.
“Never mind the bad run of six matches. I’m sure Gareth and the boys would have liked nothing more than to go into the tournament unbeaten, but remember: this squad takes everything in their stride and all they will be focusing on is one game at a time.”
England opened their World Cup campaign last Monday with their 6–2 demolition of Iran.
“I believe we have the squad and the manager to go deep into the tournament”, says Crouch, “but as always, you need a little bit of luck on your side and every nation raises their game at a World Cup, especially against England, and even more so now this England side — over the last few years — have consistently been a top international team at tournaments. That will make them a scalp for any nation. I wish the whole team and Gareth the best of luck and hope to be cheering them on come December 18th.”
Four years after scoring against Trinidad and Tobago in the 2006 World Cup when England lost to Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal at the quarter-final stage, Crouch headed to South Africa as Fabio Capello’s England began another World Cup campaign. The Sun famously dubbed their group ‘EASY’ (England, Algeria, Slovenia, ‘Yanks’).
“We were full of confidence as a squad”, the 41-year-old recalls. “The team were in a good place and a lot of the lads had had domestic success and played in big European finals in the years between the last World Cup.”
On Friday, Southgate’s England drew 0–0 with the United States in a match where they were second-best. Crouch and England opened their 2010 campaign against the USA, and were similarly off-colour in a 1–1 draw despite taking a fourth-minute lead through captain Steven Gerrard.
“It most definitely settled the nerves scoring so early and as we were on top and pressing, of course we felt if we get a second, we could have this game in the bag early. But with any sporting fixture, moments change games and obviously the goal to get them back in it was just one of those occasions.
With half-time nearing, Clint Dempsey — plying his trade at Fulham in England — equalised for the States as his long-range hit-and-hope effort evaded Rob Green’s efforts to keep it out and trickled over the line.Embed from Getty Images
“We were gutted for Rob”, Crouch tells EnglandFootball.org. “We’ve all made mistakes in our career but to make one in a World Cup is heart-breaking. Of course, we all spoke to him at half-time and after the game, but no one was more disappointed than Rob himself.”
Remembering his goal against Trinidad and Tobago which helped England to a crucial group-stage win at Germany 2006, Crouch entered the fray after 79 minutes.
“All I’m thinking is to try and make an impact somehow in this game, whether that be an assist or goal or changing the dynamic of the game that might have allowed other players to go on and grab a winner. I’d managed to previously change the course of a game for England at a World Cup, so you go onto the pitch knowing you can do it, and just hope that one chance falls your way.”
It never did. Emile Heskey fired into the midriff of American goalkeeper Tim Howard and that was to be that. England had failed to beaten the US and started their World Cup journey with a disappointing draw. They ultimately failed to win their next game against Algeria with a dull 0–0 draw, beat Slovenia 1–0 to progress, but were then thrashed by Germany 4–1 in a round of 16 tie that saw Capello’s side crash out.Embed from Getty Images
“It was a difficult World Cup for us and we didn’t do well at all, so as you can suspect, it was not one of the highlights of my career”, admits Crouch. “We played badly, didn’t come together as a unit on the pitch and not enough of us gave big performances when it really mattered, which ultimately led to the main reasons that I think meant we underachieved as a team at the tournament.”
Reflecting on his international career as a whole, the star of the aptly named and hugely popular That Peter Crouch Podcast is much more upbeat.
“Aside from the overriding feeling of the  tournament, I look back really really fondly on my England career. I felt I was successful in the role I played for the team and at some points was heading into every game thinking I’m definitely going to score today. It felt like a really solid five years for me in an England shirt and I was pleased with the way I played and represented my country, despite not winning something which is obviously every young boy’s dream.
“I’m proud of my record and my number of caps, but ultimately, I’m just proudest that I even got to put on the Three Lions just once and was lucky enough to play for us at two World Cups. Supporting your country in big tournaments is something that I think really brings the nation together, we all want them to win and this tournament is no different.”Embed from Getty Images
Attention turns to back to the England team currently out in Qatar and gearing up for their local derby with Wales tomorrow. There have been plenty of calls for Southgate to rest talisman and captain Harry Kane in favour of Callum Wilson, with England already into the second round in all but name.
“First of all, I’m a massive fan of Harry and wish nothing more for him than to do well at a World Cup again. In terms of back up, for me it was definitely between Wilson and [Ivan] Toney, but I think Gareth has gone for the right man in Callum Wilson. He’s had a great season so far with Newcastle who have been flying and has been a real catalyst in that success so far. He’s strong, he’s good in the air, he stretches defences and he’s proven time and time again that if that one chance falls to him, then he is more than able to take it.”
Crouch pauses and smiles.
“However, if you’re asking me if I was manager then I think it would have been the perfect time to bring back a sorely missed trend of the ‘90s and make myself player-manager. [I’m a] perfect Plan B, proven international goalscorer for England, and just an all-round great guy to have around the squad.” And so modest, too.
Peter Crouch was speaking exclusively to EnglandFootball.org at a charity event where he has teamed up with eBay and England midfielder Mason Mount to auction off some of his most-coveted football memorabilia, with raffle tickets just £1. Tickets can be purchased here.