PETER CROUCH: I’d give up all my England caps in a heartbeat to play with these boys this week… they might turn out to be the best players we’ve EVER produced – and one of them has promised to do the robot if he scores!
I had the opportunity to visit St George’s Park 10 days ago. We were doing some filming for my BBC show and I was lucky to be able to spend time with a few members of England’s squad.
The afternoon turned out better than I could have imagined. I spoke to Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson and a couple of the other boys, but I came away from their base feeling envious. I got 42 caps during my career — and I treasure them all — but I’d give them all up in a heartbeat to get two this week.
What a moment this is for these players. What a moment it is for the country. My life in football has always revolved around England and I’m experiencing this tournament with the joy that I had when I was a kid. I can’t imagine what it will be like if things go as we hope they will.
Peter Crouch celebrates scoring for England at the 2006 World Cup in one of his 42 caps
He had plenty of ups but some major downs at tournaments, including the 2010 World Cup
Tuesday 06 July
Wednesday 07 July
Sunday 11 July
I don’t believe there is another country in the world whose fans want to win a trophy more than ours. Think of all the players we’ve produced since 1966 who have been to major tournaments and come up short.
I know the disappointment you have felt because I was one of those responsible.
Seeing this joy — and being able to share in it — is relatively new for me. You might say I went to the 2006 World Cup and got a flavour of it when fans assembled outside our hotel in Frankfurt before one game but, when you are a player, you don’t get to drink it all in.
Crouch believes seeing England fans celebrate can feel like another world when being involved in a tournament squad where you are focused on your next game
NOW GOLDEN BOOT IS IN KANE’S SIGHTS
It is two weeks since I wrote a column about Harry Kane and explained how, in a tournament, one kick can change everything. In Harry’s case, it was one header.
I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before he scored and, now that he has, I can see him winning the Golden Boot.
His drive for goals is relentless and what you are seeing are the results of the relentless quest for self-improvement.
He practises and practises every day. Right foot, left foot, heading. It’s all about repetition, perfecting the action so that when the moment in a match comes, he is ready. I reckon he’s had five chances so far — he’s converted three.
Put it this way, for England to be potential winners, Kane had to score. Without his goals, we don’t win this tournament, it’s that simple.
Also, if he goes to Manchester City, Alan Shearer’s record of 260 Premier League goals is in grave danger. That’s how good he is at finishing.
After a big match, you are whisked away to a base in the middle of nowhere. You’ve got to focus on recovery, think about the next training sessions and opposition.
You see clips of people enjoying themselves back home but it feels like another world.
The way Gareth Southgate runs his camp, there is no danger of any member getting distracted, but it is important for them all to know about the joy they are bringing.
For all the top players we have produced over the decades, these boys might just turn out to be the best of the lot.
One of the things I have asked the lads during interviews is if they will reprise a famous celebration if they score in the tournament — Declan has promised he will do his version of ‘The Robot’ if he hits the net and I genuinely thought it was on with that shot against Ukraine.
When I asked Jordan about it, though, he burst out laughing. I knew deep down he was never going to be the kind of person who would have a prepared celebration and he told me that if his time ever came to score for England, all he would be capable of was aggressive shouting.
True to his word, that is what happened in Rome on Saturday and I was absolutely over the moon to see it.
What a player he has become. I remember when he first went to Liverpool 10 years ago, he gave the impression he was lucky to be there — now his club and country are lucky to have him.
He has matured into a leader and the example he sets is faultless. It won’t be easy for him, not starting, but he is always ready when he is called upon.
Crouch’s ‘robot’ celebration was made famous during a friendly with Jamaica in 2006
Jordan Henderson has matured into a fine leader for the current side, according to Crouch
He will be setting the tone for all those who aren’t getting into the first XI regularly and showing why the team must always come first. The key thing I picked up from St George’s Park is that everyone is getting on.
It might seem an obvious thing to say but, trust me, it doesn’t always work like that when a squad have to spend three or four unbroken weeks together.
They are a team we can be proud of and they have a glorious chance to ensure this tournament is remembered for ever. We talk about 1990 and 1996 so often but we forget about all the other disappointments we have blocked from our memory.
Gareth Southgate (third right) has put together a close group of players on the cusp of glory
England didn’t win a game at the European Championships of 1988 and 1992. We went out at the group stage then, just as we did in 2000.
How much do you remember about the last tournament in France, other than the calamity against Iceland?
But here this group, led supremely by Southgate, are on the cusp of something amazing. It’s incredible to be riding this wave they have created and we’ll be at fever pitch for the semi-final against Denmark.
We are all behind you — go and secure your place in history.