When Robbie Fowler had a shot on goal for Liverpool, opposing defenders and goalkeepers would often look straight ahead once the ball bulged into the back of the net. With their hands on their hips, some would stare in awe, as if almost to think, “Well… It’s Fowler.” Some would even look up at the sky, though they could have looked to the byline or the corner flag to have a look at “God.”
Perhaps some could even hear the commentators stretching the last syllable of his surname until it was time to take a breath, which served not only to get them through to the next sentence, but also to give them a second or two to absorb what the striker had just done on the pitch.
But his days tormenting defenders full-time are behind him, and Fowler has hit a crossroads, as he reflects on his past as a player, promotes Liverpool as an ambassador, and pursues his ambition to become a manager.
During a one-on-one interview with World Soccer Talk on Thursday, Fowler — the Englishman — was as calm, cool, and collected as he would be if he was about to punish a keeper for poorly parrying a shot from Steve McManaman, or as he would be sporting a fake mustache at a Q&A with supporters. He possesses the confidence of a striker that would score 183 goals for Liverpool.
With age, the 39 year-old admits he doesn’t have the legs he once did, though he certainly gets around quite well on them. On a raucous schedule packed with events, meet and greets with supporters and sponsors, Fowler travels with a former strike-partner 13 years his senior – Ian Rush. The two combine to spread the club’s name and see to the club being viewed in a positive light.
“Hopefully, long after we’ve gone, Liverpool are still talked about in the right way,” said Fowler.
Despite all the pomp and circumstance behind match days on tours abroad, the club puts on clinics and camps to implant a lasting legacy with those who may not have the means to get to Anfield.
For supporters, memories are made through matches. While few in America saw Fowler sniff the turf against Everton, many saw Luis Suarez take a bite at Branislav Ivanovic – and Giorgio Chiellini. Both attackers’ stories were picked up and ran with by the media, though each are considered phenomenal footballers.
“Sometimes, great players can be controversial,” Fowler said of those who, “do something that’s quite edgy – off the cuff.”
Yet he looks on the past knowing he wasn’t perfect, and acknowledges that nobody is.
“I was a young lad and growing up in the public eye and at times, it was a bit difficult for me, don’t get me wrong, I would never not say that, but look, I’ve learned from everything I’ve ever done and that is the important thing of what I’m saying,” Fowler said. “We all make mistakes.”
England’s tabloid media are just as keen to smear young celebrities with a zippy headline as a Twitter user is to dish out a witty line, though Fowler will do the same.
When asked how he would treat a player like himself as a manger, he thought for a second, laughed and said, “I would’ve made my team around me.”
Fowler has a very reflective side to him as well, which is apparent in his candid book, Fowler: My Autobiography. In the book, past interviews, and this interview, he has always said that the media made his actions seem far worse than they really were. However, the subject of being a role model and the representative of football that he is now, is something he realized was part of the deal once coming of age.
“I played football because I enjoy it,” Fowler said, “I never ever set out to be a role model.
“As a young kid coming into the game, you don’t want to be a role model – you know – you’re playing football because you enjoy it and it’s not until you’re older that you experience that there’s people who look up to you.”
Not to mention, millions around the globe counting on you to find the back of the net. Confidence is not a luxury for a striker, but a necessity, and Fowler says that all a striker needs is one goal to get more flowing.
“You need to score goals and you always find that if you get that one goal than your confidence all practically gets lifted, and you go into games thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, I can score goals,’” Fowler said.
“What I used to do is, I would look at old tapes of me scoring goals and I just feel my insides get fired up and I’m sure most strikers or most attacking players would do the same.”
Fowler would often play with a partner up top, as in the 1990s and early 2000s, strike-duos were far more common than they are today. The chess match that is a game of soccer has evolved to make attacking midfield players and lone strikers the focal point of attack for the world’s top teams.
“When I played, more often than not, it was a 4-4-2, or 3-5-2, so there was always a partner for me to play with,” Fowler said. “And that’s probably a little bit easier, you know, if you play as a lone striker, you need to do a little bit of everything. You’ve got to control the ball. You’ve got to have a good touch. Your movement’s got to be good. You’ve got to be aware of everything around you.
“But if you’re playing with a partner, you can just play off him and rely on his flicks and he can rely on your flicks. So, the game has changed in that way, but we see it all the time in football. The formations come and go.”
By reading into that piece of tactical thought, it may seem that Fowler wants a career in management, and that is because he does.
“That is my aim,” he said. “I love football too much just to walk away and that’s why I’m still involved at Liverpool.”
He was a player-manager for Muangthong United in Thailand and in 2013 took part in UEFA’s A License coaching course.
“I loved it,” he said of his time as a player-manager. “It really wetted my appetite.”
While he is willing to discuss tactics and strategy, he puts an emphasis on the personal side of a coach’s relationship with the men in his squad.
“I think, probably, 80% of being a great manager is being a good man-manager,” Fowler said. “If you’re good with the players, the players will go out there and perform that little bit better for you. If you’re a bit of a nasty manager, if you like, the players won’t run through the cause for you.”
Fowler has the presence to be a manager. When he walked into Liverpool’s practice at Fenway on Tuesday evening, the crowd took a moment to applaud him and Rush. Some looked in awe as if to think, “Oh my God. It’s God.”
“What I will say is I don’t go around calling myself it,” said Fowler of the nickname adoring Kopites use to refer to the Liverpool legend.
“As a player, to have the nickname of ‘God’ is incredible,” he said. “I think it just proves that I’ve done something right in my career.”
Editor’s note: Liverpool will be playing across the United States this summer during International Champions Cup games against Olympiacos (Sunday, in Chicago), Manchester City (Wednesday, in New York City) and AC Milan (Saturday, August 2 in Charlotte).