x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Former Liverpool star Robbie Fowler not ready to hang up boots

The Premier League's fourth highest goalscorer of all time is looking for his next challenge. He talks to Richard Jolly about Liverpool, visits to Dubai and being offered £90 a week by Blackpool.

Fowler has played in Australia and Thailand and also tried his hand at coaching since leaving the Premier League in 2009. Pete Norton / Getty Images
Fowler has played in Australia and Thailand and also tried his hand at coaching since leaving the Premier League in 2009. Pete Norton / Getty Images

One of Liverpool's legendary locals has joined the ranks of the footballing nomads. Robbie Fowler grew up in the inner-city district of Toxteth and made his name under five miles away at Anfield, scoring goals with almost unrivalled potency and regularity.

Then the world seemed at his feet. Now he has become a globetrotter. Fowler recently concluded a brief spell in Thailand, first as striker and then the player-manager of Muangthong United.

That followed two seasons in Australia's A-League, with first North Queensland Fury and then Perth Glory. He was due to become one of the pioneers, playing Premier League Soccer (PLS), the Indian tournament modelled on cricket's Indian Premier League, before plans were put on hold. Now he would welcome a future by the Arabian Gulf.

"I go to Dubai quite a lot," said the 36 year old. "I have got a place there. I have been going to the UAE for more than 10 years and it is a place I love. When I first went there it was quite undeveloped. The difference from then is incredible."

There has been past reports of interest from clubs in the country. "There was nothing definite, but there was talk," said Fowler, the fourth-highest goalscorer in English Premier League history. "What happened was agents saying 'we can get you this club'. Nothing ever materialised."

Now may be an appropriate time. Fowler is at a loose end after the PLS, also due to feature Fabio Cannavaro, Hernan Crespo and Robert Pires, was, in his words, "postponed, not cancelled."

The former England international had been sold to the Kolkata franchise for $US530,000 (Dh1.945 million) in the January auctions.

Then a proposed, but rather less lucrative, move to Blackpool broke down over the salary suggested by the Championship club: an initial £90 (Dh524) a week, albeit with a more sizeable appearance fee.

"If Ashley Cole nearly crashed his car when he was offered £50,000 a week [by Arsenal], I nearly self-combusted," said Fowler. "I am better than that." That is indisputable. The question for Fowler, like many an ageing footballer, is what comes next.

Like contemporaries such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, he is reluctant to retire.

"The older you get, the more the realisation you are not going to play forever," he said. "I always said when I was young that I would pack in young but football is the only thing I know and the only thing I have ever wanted to do. I wish I could play forever."

It is a quest that has taken him from Liverpool to Leeds United and Manchester City, back to Anfield, then to Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers, Australia and Thailand.

"Australia was fantastic," said Fowler. "The league gets a bad rap from people who don't know it but the standard was very, very good. And I really enjoyed Thailand. Technically the players were very good, their understanding of the game was not great but not too bad and the way the club was run was very professional."

On the field, providing parallels with the 1995/96 campaign at Liverpool, Fowler finished third in the league and reached the cup final. This time, however, he did so with the added responsibility of management, taking over midseason after Henrique Calisto was dismissed.

Having taken brief forays into coaching on an impromptu basis at MK Dons, Bury and, working with the strikers, Liverpool, he was placed in charge.

It was not an entirely happy experience. "I just felt the players had not given me their full support," he said. "I felt I was treading water and they were not really listening. I wanted them to be more professional on and off the pitch. I was barking up the wrong tree."

What his time in Asia has confirmed is the devotion of the international fan base. "We in England can be a little bit blase about people abroad supporting Premier League teams," he said. "But I went to Thailand years and years ago during my first spell at Liverpool. I went into a shopping mall with my wife and got recognised. When I left, I was like the Pied Piper; everyone followed me back to my hotel."

Travel famously broadens the mind. "I have seen things and done things that maybe I would not necessarily have done if I had been a one-club footballer," said Fowler. Life outside Liverpool has had its benefits.

Yet Liverpool defines him. A decade-and-a-half after he scored 30 goals in each of his first three full seasons at Anfield, more than 10 years since he first left and almost five after his second spell at the club concluded, his association with his hometown club remains indelible.

As he discovered when Rafa Benitez brought him back to Anfield in 2006, there are second acts in Liverpool life. Fowler is delighted that Kenny Dalglish has been restored to the dugout. One of the club's finest finishers earned the loyalty of another during his first spell as manager, when Fowler was an unknown teenager.

"I was a schoolboy and Kenny was the manager and it tells you everything about him as a person that one day he saw me at a bus stop, picked me up and took me home," he remembered. "It was miles out of his way and he was manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world at the time. I have got so much respect for him. He is a fantastic man and a fantastic manager."

Tonight's Merseyside derby has a strange backdrop. While Everton supporters celebrate David Moyes's 10th anniversary at Goodison Park, there is an element of unrest among some of their Liverpool counterparts.

"They are having a bit of a bad run in the league but people forget it is only two weeks since they won the first trophy in six years," Fowler said. In his eyes, the right man is in the right job. "Like most Liverpool fans, I want someone who understands 'the Liverpool Way' and the way the club runs," he said. "Kenny fits the bill."



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