Barely a day goes by at the moment without an inquest appearing in the newspapers or on television about Peter Crouch's wait for his first Liverpool goal.
I almost feel guilty about tackling the issue here because of that, but I feel that certain things need to be said about Crouch because there is a bandwagon out there that is in danger of getting out of control.
I would love to say that I don't think there's a media agenda against him, but in reality there is. It's not one that I or any of the journalists that cover Liverpool on a regular basis have bought into, but it is there and it irritates me that people are trying to poke fun out of someone who is not only a very nice guy but also a very good footballer.
I was reporting on the match against Portsmouth on Saturday and I made a conscious decision not to write about Crouch. Not because I felt it was time to lay off him but because, apart from the penalty miss, I thought he had a very decent game. If there was one individual who looked vulnerable and out of his depth on Saturday it certainly wasn't Crouch; it was probably the Portsmouth manager and that's why I said I expect Crouch to be scoring goals long after Alain Perrin leaves Portsmouth.
Oliver Kay on Liverpool
Newspaper: The Times Time in current post: Five years Number of years covering the Reds: 6 Most memorable match covering Liverpool: Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final at Anfield last season. Best player seen during your time covering the Reds: I would have to say Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher closely followed by Sami Hyypia and Didi Hamann. I also love watching Xabi Alonso and I hope he will become a Liverpool legend.
It's starting to sound like a broken record with people going on about when Crouch is going to score his first goal. Instead of writing about when Crouch is going to score, the bigger picture is Liverpool have won their last four games, scored 10 goals and not conceded any. Peter Crouch has become something of a nationwide talking point and it has taken away from the fact that since the Carling Cup defeat at Crystal Palace, Liverpool have regrouped and are playing as well as at any time since Rafael Benitez joined the club. The four games Liverpool have won probably haven't been the hardest but there are definite signs that certain things the manager wants to do are coming together. If Liverpool can win their two games this week - against Real Betis and Manchester City - then I think there will be reasons for genuine optimism amongst the supporters.
In the meantime, it seems like Crouch is the story of the moment at Liverpool. You can't ignore the fact that he hasn't scored yet, but at the same time, you have to look at what else he is bringing to the team. Is he playing well? Yes. It seems misguided to go on persistently about a lack of goals because Benitez didn't buy him thinking he was going to score 20 or 25 goals a season. The Liverpool manager probably expected him to perform quite similarly to the way he has, perhaps with a few more goals, but not one every week. Every Liverpool supporter would probably have hoped he'd have scored a few more goals as well but despite the fact that he hasn't, he is playing well and people shouldn't lose sight of that.
He certainly doesn't seem like a player who is struggling for confidence. I don't think he would have picked up the ball for the penalty if he his bottle had gone. His overall game was very good on Saturday, as Benitez quite rightly pointed out. I'm not saying he is perfect because, as the manager says, he is not quite aggressive enough in the penalty area and he's not quite quick enough off the mark to be a perfect centre forward. But I know that when Benitez was having him watched last season, he was convinced that Crouch was the perfect forward for the way Liverpool were going to play.
I think that view will have been strengthened rather than weakened in the last few weeks. If you speak to people within football about him, they rave about him, the positions he takes up, the way he uses the ball when he gets it, everything. Yes goals matter when you're a striker, and at the moment he's not scoring enough, but the rest of his game is excellent. And his record at Southampton last season shows that he knows how to score.
Maybe more goals were expected from Crouch but I will be surprised if he doesn't get a reasonable amount of goals this season. I'm not saying he will suddenly start averaging one every two games but I think once the first goal comes, they will come in numbers. It is probably a similar situation at Liverpool to what we had with Emile Heskey. Every time he scored one goal, people would always say: 'Maybe we will see the real Heskey now'. Maybe the real Heskey was this figure that scored once in five games but worked very hard for the team in other areas and maybe that will be the same for Crouch, goalscoring wise. However, judging him by Saturday's performance, I thought he had a very decent game and I'm sure his overall play will result in Liverpool scoring a lot of goals even if it isn't his name on the scoresheet.
Oliver Kay on Liverpool
As I cover all North-West teams I probably shouldn't say this but yes I am a Liverpool fan. I had a season ticket from 1986 until 2001 until work got in the way! If I lost my job tomorrow, I'd be back at Anfield every week as a fan. Every journalist has a team they support, some more than others. It's not a problem for me being objective about Everton or Manchester United. Because I'm a fan, I sometimes find it harder to praise Liverpool, but my heart is in the right place.
Because I report on Manchester United as well as Liverpool, the Peter Crouch thing reminds me of a very similar situation when Diego Forlan was playing at Old Trafford. I think he went something like 25 games before he scored and it became like an obsession for the media. Now of course Forlan is scoring goals galore in Spain with Villarreal and that shows he is a decent player. I think the key with Crouch is not how long he will take to score but what he does after that. Forlan eventually scored but despite the odd flurry after that (including a couple of goals at Anfield) it seemed the damage had been done and it seemed he never felt he belonged at that level.
I'm hopeful that the same won't happen with Crouch because, to judge by his performances, as opposed to finishing, he believes he does belong at this level. He will obviously score sooner or later and then it's up to him to go on to greater things at Liverpool and show the doubters that he's good enough to play for a special club like the European Champions.
While the Liverpool fans have given Crouch great backing so far, he has taken a lot of stick from opposition supporters this season and a lot of it seems to be because of how tall he is. If he was scoring goals, he wouldn't be getting stick but it's easy to jump on a bandwagon when someone is not scoring. Having said that, as a journalist it's quite hard when you mention Crouch not to use the words 'six-foot-seven striker' and it many cases, it's often relevant when you are describing his game and performance. I did an interview with Michael Owen a couple of weeks ago and he was saying Crouch has got a great touch for a big guy. Owen laughed about what a cliche that was, but he said: "But he is a big man and he has got a great touch, so what can you say?"
I agree with Owen and I do think there is an awful lot more to his game than just height as a couple of turns against Portsmouth were excellent. I'm not saying he is Liverpool's answer to Wayne Rooney or that he's the new Michael Owen but I think he can do a very good job for the team, particularly if other players continue to chip in with goals. And if Benitez is able to get a winger or two during the January transfer window, I thinkit'll make a big difference for Crouch.
One final thought is that we've seen a lot of flash-in-the-pan strikers at Anfield down the years and names like Ronny Rosenthal, David Speedie, Dean Saunders, Nigel Clough, Stan Collymore and El-Hadji Diouf all spring to mind. All of those players started well but were gone, or as good as gone, within two seasons. Maybe Crouch is more of a slow-burner, but I just get the feeling that he'll be a Liverpool player for a long time to come.