Bale force can fire up Dragons -- Crouch
IF there is one footballer who knows the benefit of Gareth Bale's compelling ability to get past a full-back and cross the ball into the area, then it is his Tottenham team-mate Peter Crouch.
Come Saturday at the Millennium Stadium, the Spurs forward will for once be on the opposite side to the most exciting young player in British football. If, indeed, Crouch is selected.
He conceded yesterday that, despite a ranking of 16th in the all-time England goalscorers' list (he is two behind Geoff Hurst and only eight goals from going joint fifth with the likes of Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer), he has no idea whether he will have to make way for Andy Carroll, the latest flavour of the month.
This must be some England team when 22 goals in 42 caps (of which only 19 were starts) does not guarantee you a starting place. This being Crouch, however, there was no bitterness or threats to walk away from international football.
Mystifyingly, Carroll refused to speak to the press yesterday but, as ever, Crouch was happy to step into the breach. Having done so, he put into perspective the achievements of his young Welsh club-mate, and also reminded Bale of the standard he needs to reach if he is to fulfil Fabio Capello's rather grandiose claim that the 21-year-old is currently the best player in the world.
There is a chance that, if Capello and England get it wrong on Saturday and if Bale is in the mood, he could destroy them on his own, the same way he did Internazionale at White Hart Lane in November. But the best in the world?
"Really? He's got some way to go to be Lionel Messi's standard," Crouch said. "He sets the bar extremely high.
"Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo are out there on their own at the moment, with the sheer number of goals they've scored.
"Gareth is only young, developing, and in that position he's got to be up there with the top players in the world. He's done it in the Champions League. What he did to Inter, over two games, showed people what he is capable of and what he will do in the future.
"Wales' biggest threat is Gareth Bale. That's no secret. He's a top-class player and been on fire for the last two years. It's something we will be looking at. When we assess our opponents, have a look at videos, I'm sure Gareth will be prominent in a lot of those videos.
"We might have to double up on him. He's been top class. Sometimes he's unplayable."
Asked -- by a Welsh journalist, it has to be said -- whether he would prefer Bale to be English, Crouch pointed out that it was not a thought that had ever crossed Bale's mind.
"I know Gareth is Welsh through and through. My mum and dad know his parents very well. He's a proud Welshman. There's no chance he would ever want to play for England.
"The thing about him is his energy. He's got tremendous pace. He runs the whole length of the pitch with the ball and runs the whole length back just as quickly. Then he's ready to do it again in a minute's time.
"It's the sheer energy: sometimes you look at him and think, 'how does he do that?' I get tired watching him. He's got fantastic ability and a great left foot as well."
However, Bale is not the only dangerous Welshman whose acquaintance Crouch has made in his peripatetic career.
Dangerous applies in more ways than one to his former Liverpool team-mate Craig Bellamy who was, like Crouch, frozen out at the club by then manager Rafael Benitez.
Reminded of the occasion when, on a training camp in Portugal, Bellamy brandished a golf club at John Arne Riise, Crouch conceded: "Yeah, of course, there's that side to him as well!
"He's a good lad, Bellers. He gets a lot of stick but he only wants to win. When he was at Liverpool, I was pleasantly surprised. When you see him from afar you see him shouting at refs and shouting at anyone who will listen.
"He's a top player and a winner and the only reason he's like that is he wants to win." (© Independent News Service)