PETER CROUCH: I loved to hate Man United but I’m not enjoying this
I loved to hate Manchester United as a player but I’m not enjoying this chaos… and Eric Dier’s tackle on Sergio Ramos proved to me that the Nations League is the real deal
- Manchester United were the subject of jealously and anger when I was a player
- I am not enjoying the current mess they find themselves in at Old Trafford
- They should really be a club that is feared all over the world but sadly they aren’t
- Looking at their games, it is tough to see the Newcastle win being a turning point
- I couldn’t go to print this week without paying my respects to Doug Ellis
- Raheem Sterling put criticism of him to bed with two superb strikes in Spain
Peter Crouch is a columnist for Sportsmail
Even now, it winds me up. You’d have thought something that happened in March 2007 would have been long forgotten but, really, frustration of that kind never goes away.
I’m thinking specifically of a game between Liverpool and Manchester United. We had battered them for most of the 90 minutes and should have been out of sight but, with the last kick of the game, John O’Shea scored in front of the Kop. It was the ultimate kick in the stomach.
Watching him run off celebrating was a nightmare. Why did they always do this? In my first season as a Liverpool player, Rio Ferdinand had done something similar at Old Trafford causing Gary Neville to break the land-speed record so he could celebrate in front of our fans. God, it was awful.
My mum’s side of the family are all Manchester City fans. My Dad took me to Chelsea when I was younger. I had watched United plenty of times when I was a kid and looked on with envy as they won everything. They kept on winning when I became a player and, really, it did my head in.
Why were they the only club who never had to experience disappointment or frustration somewhere? Why did it always seem that everything ran smoothly for them but not everyone else? The day when O’Shea scored, I wanted them to fall off a cliff and experience the turmoil everyone else felt.
You will probably expect me to say, then, that I’m delighted to see the way things have gone for United over the last few months. Well, actually, you would be wrong. Now the chaos has hit Old Trafford, I’ll be honest — I don’t like what I am seeing.
Every week it seems someone is popping up with something that didn’t need saying. It feels like a game of ‘he said, she said’ and they are in the news for all the wrong reasons. This, remember, is Manchester United, the club that really should be feared all over the world.
I don’t want to pin the blame on people or make scapegoats for the erratic results they have experienced since the start of the season. I’ve heard many people put forward the reason that Jose Mourinho has ‘lost the dressing room’, but I wouldn’t know if that is the case.
Manchester United should be a club that is feared all over the world but they currently are not
There have been times when I’ve been in dressing rooms when big characters have turned against a manager and the followers in the squad follow. It’s a horrible situation, but I don’t accept for a minute that any player ever goes out with the intention of losing to put pressure on a manager.
When you cross that white line, professional pride is the first thing that kicks in. I don’t know anyone who could sit at home on Saturday night and feel OK about not putting it all in to get the right result. You don’t play for one of the Premier League’s top clubs if you accept second best.
The desire to put things right was certainly evident in United’s last game against Newcastle, when they managed to turn a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 win.
It was dramatic and provided a reminder of how things used to be, but it will take a lot to convince me that was a turning point.
Look at the next six fixtures and you will see what I mean.
It’s Chelsea today, two dates with Juventus in the Champions League, Everton at home, Bournemouth — who are flying — away and then the Manchester derby.
That is as a difficult as can be right now and explains why things have not settled down after the win over Newcastle.
United claimed a late victory against Newcastle but I struggle to see it being a turning point
There were more negative headlines during the international break and Mourinho, ahead of his return to Stamford Bridge, remains in the firing line. His future is a source of debate.
But let me ask this: If they were to get rid of him, who is going to come in and do a better job? The more I think about it, the more I struggle to find an answer.
I watched Gary Neville speak so passionately on Sky about this two weeks ago and what he said was right. The problems affecting United run deeper than Jose Mourinho.
That concerns me. As much as I used to love to hate Manchester United, I loved playing against them more because the games were always so different, so intense and hard fought.
If you beat them, you knew you had beaten the best and taking their scalp meant more. You may disagree but I think the league is stronger when United are flying.
The aspiration for all teams should be beating them — at full strength — to trophies because it makes the achievement extra special.
I want United to be a force. For all they wound me up, I do not want them to fade.
The problems affecting United run deeper than Mourinho and that is very concerning
Dier’s tackle proved to me Nations League is real deal
I was a big critic of UEFA’s Nations League, and I’m still not too sure how it all works, but anything that involves Germany possibly getting relegated sounds good to me!
In all seriousness, though, I watched England’s game in Seville on Monday and it was a treat to watch a proper game of football. I’ve played in internationals when there are 10 substitutions in the second half and, quite frankly, they are a waste of time.
When the game stops and starts and you see players coming and going, you do think ‘what is the point?’
Situations such as those benefit nobody, whether it is the lads on the pitch, the international manager or those back at their clubs.
The opposite was true in Spain. You could tell from the moment Eric Dier smashed into Sergio Ramos — what a tackle — that something was at stake and you only had to watch Luis Enrique reacting on the touchline to see how much Spain wanted to win.
This was no friendly.
Eric Dier clattered into Sergio Ramos with a powerful sliding tackle in Monday night’s game
After the incident Dier and Ramos faced each other and exchanged words on the pitch
I’d love all England games to be like this now. Not so long ago, I had good friends who really know their stuff about football being oblivious to the fact England were playing because the matches had become so dull. It’s fair to say the international break has been something to dread.
Beating Spain in that manner shows there can be something to look forward to now.
I’d compare that win to the time we beat Argentina in Switzerland in 2005 or the thrashing of Germany in 2001 — a proper success against a proper side.
If the Nations League means more competitive fixtures, with better atmospheres and every point meaning something, so much the better.
The only people who will have complaints then will be the club managers, who will be holding their breath as they watch it unfold.
It meant the world to play for Doug Ellis
This is the first column I have written since Doug Ellis sadly passed away and I couldn’t go to print without paying my respects.
I’ll never forget my first meeting with him, the day I signed for Aston Villa in 2002.
He used to leave his Rolls-Royce outside the main door to Villa Park and you had to walk around it to get into the stadium. His office was also a very daunting place but what a man he was. During the course of our conversation, The Chairman casually explained that he invented the overhead kick — I subsequently discovered it was a story he used to tell all his new signings — but who knows? Maybe that planted the seed of inspiration for events later in my career!
During one conversation with Doug Ellis, he casually explained he invented the overhead kick
It meant the world that he was prepared to sign me for Villa, just as it did that Graham Taylor insisted his chairman should do the deal. Graham was fantastic and it always nagged at me that I never fully repaid him with my performances at the club.
Graham gave me huge support and a few years later, when I was playing for Liverpool and England, he raced down from doing radio work at Anfield to see me after one game.
He said he was proud and always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.
He and Doug Ellis were fantastic characters but, more importantly, fantastic men. They will be sadly missed.
Next up for me…
A big week, starting today against Birmingham before games at Sheffield United and Bristol City. Our form had picked up before the international break and we want to keep it that way. The season is starting to get interesting.
Who’s caught my eye… Raheem Sterling
He deserved his place in the England team regardless of having not scored. Now he has put that criticism to bed with two superb strikes in Spain, his worth to Gareth Southgate should not be questioned.
A performance of that quality had been overdue and I was delighted to see him do for England what he does for Manchester City.
What I’m listening to…
I’m a big fan of Friendly Fires and they have a new tune out with Disclosure called ‘Heaven Let Me In’ that has been aired on various radio stations this week. It’s going to be on my playlist for a good while.
What I’ve been up to…
It wasn’t exactly a normal international break! I made an appearance on The Jonathon Ross Show last Saturday night and, for those who never saw it, ended up dancing with Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas.
I can safely say I have no plans to follow in the footsteps of my wife and appear on the show at a future date! After that, we had the Stoke City golf day at Mere in Cheshire on Tuesday. The course was fantastic. My performance was not.
Arsene Wenger has made it clear that he is ready to return to work and I am looking forward to seeing where he turns up.
He deserves an international role, a project of that nature to oversee.
I’ve expressed my admiration for Wenger many times on these pages and, to me, he will always be the innovator who I used to see on the touchline for games between Arsenal and Tottenham’s youth teams at London Colney.
His thirst to watch football at any level clearly remains huge and it is likely his next destination will be in France or Japan.
I could not, though, see him returning to the Premier League. The association with Arsenal is too strong. To see him wearing a big coat in another team’s colours wouldn’t be right.
Arsene Wenger is ready to return to work and I am looking forward to seeing where he turns up
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