Watford: Peter Crouch insists England coach Fabio Capello was wrong when he claimed that Wales winger Gareth Bale is the best player in the world.
Bale, who will come up against England striker Crouch in Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier in Cardiff, has drawn covetous glances from some of Europe's biggest clubs since destroying Inter Milan twice in the Champions League.
The Tottenham star's stunning hat-trick in the San Siro was followed up by a virtuoso display in the return meeting with the European champions and he looks a good bet to be voted English football's Young Player of the Year.
Capello was so impressed by Bale's development that he surprisingly ranked the 21-year-old ahead of the likes of Barcelona striker Lionel Messi and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Crouch believes his Spurs team-mate is very much a work in progress compared to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, who are widely regarded as the world's best at present.
"I think he has got some way to go to be Lionel Messi standard to be honest," Crouch said.
"Messi sets the bar extremely high. Messi and Cristiano (Ronaldo) are up there on their own at the moment just with the sheer number of goals they have scored."
"But Gareth is only young and developing. In his position he is one of the best because he has done it in the Champions League."
"What he did to Inter Milan over those two games showed everyone what he is capable of and what he will be in the future."
Crouch means no disrepect to Bale when he plays down his mate's place among the world's elite stars and he is adamant he always knew he would be a star.
"I think even when he wasn't playing for Tottenham we all said in training what a fantastic player he was," Crouch said
"He has gone on to be an even better player than we thought. The thing about him is his energy."
"He has got pace but he runs the whole length of the pitch and then back just as quickly. Then he is ready to do it again."
"You think 'how does he do it?'. It makes me tired just looking at him!"
Crouch acknowledges that England will go a long way to winning this weekend's crucial qualifier if they can subdue Bale and he admitted Capello may consider double-teaming the left winger rather than just leaving right-back Glen Johnson to deal with him.
"Their biggest threat is Gareth Bale. That is no secret. We look at videos and I'm sure he will be prominent in those," Crouch said.
"If we can stop him we can stop a lot of Wales' threat. We may have to double up on him. I thought West Ham coped with him well on the weekend doing that."
The other main danger to England is likely to come from Craig Bellamy, the temperamental forward currently on loan at Cardiff after falling out with Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini.
Bellamy's spikey personality has made him a divisive figure at all his clubs, especially Liverpool, where he hit team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club during an argument.
"He's a good lad and only wants to win. Of course there is that other side of him as well!" Crouch said.
"You see him shouting at refs and anyone in sight really. That's the way he plays and he shouts at people to get geed up for the game."
Crouch has scored 22 goals in 42 appearances for England, with 17 of those goals coming in just 19 international starts, yet he remains unsure of his place in Capello's plans.
He most often features as substitute but he still believes he can force his way into the side and write his name into the record books in the process.
"I'm not going to lie. I've had one eye on the stats and it would be an amazing achievement to get among England's all-time top scorers," he said.
"I've got 22 goals and I think Nat Lofthouse has 30 goals in the top five so it's not a million miles away."