1286: Premiership: The fall and fall
by : Ross Armstrong
At a time when strikers are very much a popular subject at Anfield, it’s worth reflecting that, eleven years ago this month, a bright young teenage hotshot was consolidating his place in the Liverpool starting XI. By this stage, he’d played only a handful of games, but he already had a Premiership hat-trick and a five goal blast in the League Cup against Fulham to his name.
This young lad would get to 100 goals for Liverpool quicker even than the greatest of them all, Ian Rush. He would go on to score 174 goals for the club in just over 300 games, including vital goals in Cup finals and crucial league games. He thoroughly deserved his well-known nickname at Anfield, although many questioned whether God had quite the same eye for goal that he did. Of course, you know by now, that young lad was Robbie Fowler.
At his peak, Robbie Fowler was – pretty much universally – recognised as someone who would go on to be the best English goalscorer since Jimmy Greaves. As a striker, Robbie was a better out-and-out goalscorer than Alan Shearer, more clinical than Ian Wright, more prolific than Les Ferdinand, more of an all-rounder than Andy Cole and he possessed natural ability that Michael Owen can only have dreamed of. Because of everything that has followed, it is easy to forget that, next to his peers, Robbie Fowler was a magnificent, once in a generation talent that people would have paid the admission to see.
Yet, of all of these strikers, his peers, Fowler is the man that will ultimately go down as having achieved least. He will go down as the one who desperately missed the chances to deliver on his potential, and the one who faded away when it mattered most.
The tragedy of Fowler’s demise is that it seems so hard to explain. Why has the man who looked as if he had everything and looked as if he would go on to be a global household name, become a footballer criticised by Kevin Keegan of all people, for his weight of all things?
Injuries have played their part – Fowler has had some bad ones, and his body does still bear the strain that they’ve caused. Moreover, his injuries coincided with the seemingly unstoppable rise of the relentlessly professional Michael Owen. Rightly or wrongly, Fowler’s approach to the game can’t have contrasted well, especially in terms of Houllier’s vision for Liverpool, with Owen’s constant dedication and squeaky-clean style. If the critics were right and Owen and Fowler couldn’t play together, then Houllier was always going to go with the ruthless persistence of Owen over the frustrating genius – and we are talking about genius – of Fowler.
Yet not even this would explain why, on leaving Houllier’s Liverpool, Fowler has failed to inspire any of the increasingly needy Leeds or Manchester City teams he has played in. If it were injuries, if it were a conflict with Houllier and his style of play, then why hasn’t he produced the goods elsewhere, without these hindrances?
The unfortunate but unavoidable question that one should also ask is what would Michael Owen have achieved had he been blessed with half of Fowler’s ability? How is Michael Owen currently adjusting to life at a new club?
In spite of all the injuries, the bad circumstances and whatever else one might mention, the only logical conclusion that remains is that Robbie Fowler, once rightly heralded as a once in a lifetime talent, once talked up as a potential record breaker for club and country, failed. He failed to deliver, failed to find the extra 10% that separates the good from the great and the extra 10% that transforms potential into legend. And, whilst there will always be something tragic about the fact that Robbie Fowler has failed, he can blame only himself.