Giant strides

KEITH BRADFORD -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

At six-foot-seven, Peter Crouch should be more at home on a basketball court than a soccer field.

But the buck-toothed Southampton striker, the tallest outfield player in the English Premiership, is proving that appearances can be deceptive.

After years of being shunned by coaches and transferred from club to club, he's been given an extended run in the first team.

And he's done so well that it's hard to figure out what's more bizarre: the sight of him moving giraffe-like through Premiership defences, or the fact that he's now scored as many goals as Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Chelsea's Didier Drogba.

Pace and power - especially among forwards - now dominate the game to such an extent that Crouch's success is one of the surprises of the season.

There's even talk of an England call-up. But that's about as likely as Rooney making it through an entire game without swearing at the referee.

That said, the presence of a six-foot-seven forward towering over David Beckham et al would add a little entertainment to an international friendly ... particularly if England happens to be playing China.

SPEAKING OUT: Many of soccer's most colourful characters have left the game.

And those who are still around have been forced to tone down their act.

If a microphone is thrust in their face and something other than a politically correct cliche comes out, fines, suspensions, lawsuits and that horror of horrors - media training - tend to follow.

But even after the thought police have done their best, a few gems still seem to slip through.

Sometimes players and coaches just can't help being ... well, themselves. So for every "I didn't see anything at all. That's all I'm saying" (Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce after a brawl erupted among players during a recent game), a Becks or a Craig Bellamy classic usually comes along to save the day.

"He (boss Graeme Souness) has just gone behind my back in front of my face," Bellamy told the English Daily Mail newspaper recently after falling out with Souness.

But he's still got a long way to go if he wants to rival Becks.

"I definitely want (my son) Brooklyn to be christened, but I don't know into what religion yet," Becks told the BBC shortly after Brooklyn's birth.

Then there's the now retired Paul (Gazza) Gascoigne: "I've had 14 bookings this season - eight of which were my fault, but seven of which were disputable."

UNITED WE FALL: Manchester United chief executive David Gill has called for an overhaul of the Champions League format - to help more big clubs reach the quarter-finals.

United, Barcelona and Real Madrid crashed out in the first knockout stage and Gill says a ranking system would help to ensure the big guns avoid each other early on.

Don't the big clubs already get enough help in terms of TV revenue and spending power? And at what point does soccer's flagship league competition stop being a business and start being a sport?


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