Former England striker, all-round good egg and Paddy Power ambassador Peter Crouch took time away from stooping under doorways and dancing like a robot to chat with us about England’s prospects, who could get in their way, and how to fit so many exciting players into one team…
So, Peter, what are England’s chances at this summer’s tournament? You’ve surely got the bunting out already for a Euros win, right?
Oh, that’s one of those questions I just don’t want to answer because every time during the qualifiers with England you think, “oh that’s great, we’re through, but we’ll never actually win it”. And then it gets closer and closer and you start thinking “Yeah, we’ve really got a chance here”. I get so excited, and I’m doing the same again this time.
Okay, so what you’re saying is it’s definitely coming home?
Not quite, I’m just looking at Mason Mount scoring in the Champions League semi-finals, Phil Foden helping his team to the final as well, and two English teams battling it out to be champions of Europe.
These players have the calibre to do something special.
I’m seeing Jack Grealish, Harry Kane playing so well, and then there are the likes of Jude Bellingham and all these young players coming through and they are playing with no fear. I think defensively there could be an issue, but going forward I really do think we’ve got a chance.
But it’ll be different this time – or is that what everyone always says?
It does feel different to me – it even feels different to when I was playing at tournaments. Among the squad you get the feeling there’s more of a club atmosphere and the lads get on really well.
When we played, it often felt like the weight of these huge expectations was on us at those World Cups and Euros. When I look at these young players and I feel like they play with more freedom and less pressure on them.
These players are also playing in huge Champions League and Premier League games week-in and week-out, but nothing seems to faze them. Lots of them are young but there’s experience in the squad too – Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson, even Raheem Sterling is very experienced now, so there’s a great blend in the squad and that helps.
With so many exciting players, the biggest problem could be fitting them in the team?
Well, Phil Foden’s basically played his way in, he’s been so good for City. I’d like to see Jack Grealish in there because he’s a player I love watching, but the injury he’s had possibly gives Gareth an excuse to leave him out, as there’s a huge push from people who want to see him in the team.
Saying all this, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have never let him down. They’ve always played well for England, scored goals, and I know he likes them. It’s a big selection dilemma as you can’t play them all.
Whatever decision he makes, if we do badly it’ll have been “the wrong selection” according to everyone, and if we do well, he’ll be a genius. It’s a tough job, but that’s what comes with being England manager.
So, no pressure then, Gareth, just go and win it?
There’s a quiet expectation with England at the moment. I think a semi-final would be acceptable, but if we could get to the final that would be surpassing expectations.
Deep down though, we all think we’re capable of winning it.
A semi-final appearance would be adequate. Anything less than that wouldn’t be “a failure,” but would feel like what we expect every time – high hopes and then disappointment.
Is there one player England can’t do without?
Yes, Harry Kane for me. That man taking a penalty in the last minute of a game, or put through one-on-one in a crucial match, you need that ice-cold finisher if you want to do well at these tournaments and he’s the man for that.
But the most exciting player at the tournament will be Foden – certainly from an English point of view. I worry defensively as there are some potential mistakes there in my opinion.
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Short of hopping in a time machine to bring back peak Terry Butcher and Sol Campbell, is there anything the gaffer can do to shore things up?
Well, Harry Maguire’s done really well after a difficult start at Manchester United, and the same could be said for John Stones at Manchester City. They’ve both come good and, despite Harry’s injury, are going into the competition in good form. The goalkeeper thing has been an issue at times but Jordan Pickford’s never let him down.
They’re the only concerns for me, because of the midfield and attacking options. Mount is such an underrated player, Declan Rice can go to another level, Henderson’s a top captain and leader as long as he’s fit, so there’s plenty of plus points there and they can protect the defence.
I think I’m even starting to sound like Gareth Southgate now.
And, who, if anyone, can vanquish this mighty England side?
Croatia always seem to be a problem for us and obviously we’re playing them in the group. It’s hard to look further than France, as world champions and with all the stars they have at their disposal. But I think the Portugal team, when you go through it – Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, Cristiano Ronaldo to name just a few – there are so many top players in their team all the way through.
And then there’s Belgium as well, of course, the top-ranked side in the world at the moment, but France and Portugal look the biggest dangers to me – you’ll have to beat one or both of them at some stage to win it.
But with all these home games for England it should be easy…
It’s going to be a huge bonus playing at Wembley.
The last time was Euro ‘96 and it could be a big plus factor, especially with some fans back in. The buzz around Euros and World Cups in this country is massive and everyone seems to come together for them.
We’ve seen the difference it makes this year with no fans in grounds, it certainly held Liverpool back, so that’ll definitely spur the team on. Or, if it was me, it would definitely give me another extra five per cent for sure.
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