‘I have been punched!’ – Peter Crouch on Philipp Wollscheid and being different at Stoke City


One of the more repeated questions over the past few weeks has been for recommendations on how to fill the footballing void.

And we’re lucky with Stoke City in that we have more than a fair share of top class biographies and autobiographies to keep us going for a long time in lockdown.

Peter Crouch’s excellent books are autobiographical but don’t particularly resemble many others – and it’s no coincidence that they have been flying at the top of the bestsellers charts.

He comes equipped with stories from clubs up and down the country, as well as England on the international scene, but he was at Stoke for longer than anywhere else.

And in all that time, he rarely came across many characters like Philipp Wollscheid, the enigmatic defender unlucky enough to be tasked with filling Robert Huth’s boots by Mark Hughes.

Wollscheid took things seriously.

Crouch explained in I, Robot how that included Friday morning set piece training when the reserve players whose role is to act as the opposition are expected not to put in any more effort than a mannequin.

And when that unwritten rule is not followed, ‘all hell breaks loose’.

“We had a German defender at Stoke called Philipp Wollscheid, and he refused to do anything but his absolute best, almost as if he were a professional being paid to do it,” said Crouch.

“Our assistant coach Mark Bowen set up a drill where Wollscheid and his fellow stooges had to break a defensive line that the rest of us were holding. That was fine, except that he was taking it far too seriously, barging into me, and then I’m losing my head and giving him a little dig with my elbow. Before I know it, he’s kicking out at me and cutting my leg, and I’m grabbing hold of his nose.

“He was very camp German about it. ‘Oh my God! You haff all seen this! Captain!’ (This to Ryan Shawcross.) ‘Captain! I haff been punched! I cannot believe this – because he is English you let him get away with this!’ All because he was being too busy.

“All because he was doing the job he had been asked to do as he had been asked to do, rather than as the unspoken rule that he had never heard suggested he should. But Phil was always different.”

Philipp Wollscheid joined Stoke, initially on loan, from Bayer Leverkusen in January 2015.

Philipp Wollscheid and a matchday mascot high five prior to a Premier League match between Stoke City and Swansea City.
Philipp Wollscheid and a matchday mascot high five prior to a Premier League match between Stoke City and Swansea City.

Wollscheid became a cult figure during his time at Stoke, with fans serenading the centre-half as either being ‘better than Zidane’ or for running ‘like me nan’ depending on how far down the Chinese whispers you were sitting.

Crouch added: “On a team trip to Dubai we went out for a few beers, and ended up in one of the lads’ rooms for a few more.

“Suddenly he’s grabbing the phone on the bedside table, looking distressed, shouting at us all. ‘Argh! I’m so angry!’ ‘Phil mate, what’s the matter?’ ‘I am so very angry!’ ‘You’re angry? But why?’ ‘No, not an-gry. Un-gry! I’m so, so ungry!’ Turned out all he wanted was a cheese and ham toastie.”

“On our pre-season training camp in Austria we were given a rare afternoon off. A few of us decided to play golf, a few stroll into town for a coffee. Phil decided to go off on his own.

“When I saw him later, he again looked distressed. ‘I had absolute nightmare! I was stuck in the fun Ekulah!’ I had no idea what he was on about. What was an Ekulah – a local Austrian bar, some sort of rural jail? How could it have been so bad when he himself had described it as fun?

“It took several minutes to work out he’d been on the funicular railway.  Being a footballer I neither knew there was a railway in the area nor that the word funicular existed.

“English was Phil’s second language yet he was schooling me in an obtuse technical backwater of mine. We thought he was weird. But he thought we were weirder.”

Wollscheid helped Stoke record back-to-back ninth placed finishes after joining – playing a big role in his first full season upon injury to Ryan Shawcross – and starring in a League Cup semi-final second leg win at Anfield… before the side lost on penalties.

But he was then bombed down the pecking order, had a traumatic season on loan at Wolfsburg, left on a free transfer to join Metz and left them half a season later. Now 31, he ended up joining his mates’ futsal team, helping them get in the running to be the best in Germany.

Crouch said: “Phil used to wear tracksuits so baggy it was as if they belonged to a man twice his weight, yet he wasn’t bothered. He would bring the ball out of defence with the gait of a fashionista carrying a handbag in the crook of her arm.

“He would run in such a strange fashion that mates of mine coming along to watch us would say to me afterwards, what the hell is wrong with your centre-half?

“Maybe in Wadern, the little town he came from in south-west Germany, they all ran like that. And he was a really good player. Just different, like Rob Green was different. Different in a way that football dressing rooms, cruel as they are, struggle to handle.”





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