This is the first guest post on Other People’s Ideas. It’s by Chris Levy, and it’s about football.
I’ve always been strangely fascinated by Peter Crouch. Its not the robo-dancing celebration, or my very casual liking for Spurs; its just the managing to be good at football whilst gangling around and grinning like an idiot every time he scores.
The only highlight of the dross that England put up against France last week was Crouch’s goal – minutes after coming off the bench – lashing in a deep corner on the volley. It was almost, but not quite, as good a bit of technique as THAT Marco van Basten goal [Pete: hold on a second… do you mean THIS goal? Seriously?]. Yet there was barely a mention of it in the press coverage after the game, most of which revolved around Andy Carroll. Now that Heskey is no longer around, Capello says plan A is to pair Carroll with Rooney.
Crouch has now got 21 goals from 41 England appearances, which puts him 15th on the all time-list. To put that into context, Rooney has 27 from 68, Shearer reached 36 from 63, Owen 40 from 89. What’s more, Crouch has only started 19 games for England.
All this got me wondering – if Crouch is that prolific for England, why does he never get a game? There are two ideas I can think of (or steal from elsewhere).
The first is a cruel inversion of the ‘good feet for a big man’ cliché – that Crouch is crap at heading for a seven-foot beanpole. I’ve frequently heard it trotted out by commentators that “he’s actually not that strong with his head, you know, Clive.” Football-geek website zonalmarking corrects this idea pretty neatly – pointing out that Crouch has one of the highest proportions of goals accounted for by headers in recent top-flight history (Tim Cahill is first, interestingly).
The other is the Heskey myth – that a smaller, more skillful striker benefits from playing up front with a mobile big man. The logic runs that an Owen or a Rooney needs a big, strong and quick partner to hare all over the place, distracting the defence and creating space. Crouch’s relative lack of mobility and girth meant he flitted around the fringes of the squad while Heskey was busy racking up seven goals in 60-odd games.
There might be something to the Heskey myth, but lets come back to the statistics again: Crouch has a goals-to-games ratio for England of better than 50%. The question for me isn’t how to bring the best out of Rooney: it’s who works best with Crouch.