Football: Home truths guiding Fowler to new goals

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The Independent Online
WHEN ROBBIE Fowler turned up yesterday it was a moot point, with his old pal Steve McManaman just across the room, whether they would revive the famous Merseyside double act that ran aground at the end of last season.

Nowadays, though, the former Liverpool team-mates are, so they would have us believe, their own men with McManaman playing in Spain for Real Madrid and Fowler coping with the dual responsibilities of recent fatherhood and the Liverpool vice- captaincy.

"Steve's a very good friend of mine and I miss him a lot," Fowler admitted. "But you can't afford to dwell on it."

Their youthful revelry seems a thing of the past, though in Fowler's case the not-too-distant past. The sniffing and posturing antics that threatened to sully his name for good are still fresh enough in the memory but Fowler talks like a true repenter.

"They're the biggest mistakes I've ever made and I think I can learn from that," he said. "But everything that happens has really been dealt with and there's only so many times you can say sorry.

"Years ago, obviously footballers could get away with doing things. But now, because there's so many television cameras on you, you can't afford to do the kind of stuff I did. You have to be careful with everything you do. It's all highlighted and you have got to be really sensible.

"A lot of people stuck by me, like Gerard Houllier and obviously Kevin Keegan. After all that happened he still played me for the Bulgaria game. He didn't have to because I wasn't as match fit as some others and I would like to repay him by getting a few goals."

Much has been made of Fowler's new-found maturity and, if his stunning performance against Arsenal last weekend is anything to go by, then both Liverpool and England are set to reap the rewards.

"It was a gradual process," he says. "You can't just wake up one morning and say: `I'll be grown-up today'. It's got to take a period of time. I'm 24 now, obviously I'm no baby, vice-captain of Liverpool - all these things add up and you have to show you're responsible. I considered leaving Liverpool at one stage," he said.

"After all that happened I was thinking: `I don't need this, it might be better if I go elsewhere'. But I sat down with the manager and he took all the doubts out of my mind."

Houllier, the manager in question, must take much of the credit for Fowler's renaissance and the player himself believes the Frenchman is also getting it right in other departments at Anfield. "Since I've been there we've always been a nearly team," Fowler said. "We needed to start all over again and I think with the signings he has made we'll go places."

Meanwhile the opportunity is there for Fowler to go places with England at last. He is not the first striker to find goals at international level a more precious commodity than in the Premiership. But, at 24, time is still on his side.

"From when I was 18 or 19 people said `he has to prove himself at international level', and obviously I haven't done that," he said. "I've not scored as many goals as I would have liked but I have not made as many starts as I would have liked either.

"I've got nine caps and I've started four games, I think, and obviously the Bulgaria game was the biggest test and I could have done better. There were a few injuries in the Sweden game, a few new faces, and we didn't have that many days to work on things as a team. It was not the result England wanted but we won't dwell on it."

Fowler will find out this morning whether he will add to those four starts at Wembley tomorrow as Alan Shearer's partner in the England attack in the European Championship qualifier against Luxembourg.

A new Fowler would certainly give Keegan another option at least, but the player appears to have some way to go before he can really claim to be a new man.

"Have you changed a nappy yet, Robbie?" was the question. "Not yet, no," he replied. "As soon as she was born I came straight here."

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