James Lawton: The Peter Pan of football does have a prayer of fairytale finish
Robbie Fowler: "If I could give advice to a kid starting out I’d say, ‘enjoy every minute of it while you can’"
Not every gesture and decision made by Robbie Fowler down the years has won universal approval, a fact about which one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation is candid enough as he approaches his 37th birthday.
Still, it would be interesting to know if anyone in all of football can come up with a more heart-warming possibility than the former Liverpool and England star's plan to resume his career in his native land in the famous old tangerine shirt of Blackpool. Suggestions will be received here with interest but extreme scepticism.
You may say that Fowler's latest ambition is at best quixotic and that as a substantially wealthy man of, athletically speaking, advanced years who is desperate to stay in the game he should really bow to the tyranny of Anno Domini and push on with the coaching badges.
This, however, would be to miss the point almost entirely, as one discovered on a sultry night in Brisbane a year or so ago after watching Fowler perform in a thinly-populated stadium for an outfit ambitiously entitled Perth Glory.
You went there anticipating a brief collision with a desperate fighter against the dying of his particular light. Instead, you heard one man's account of his enduring passion for the game which he had made his life. It was rather like listening to a love story and a year on down the road which has brought us the Carlos Tevez defection and any number of other football tales concerning inflated values and skewed priorities, for some of us at least its resonance can only have grown.
Fowler's team lost and he failed to add to the stockpile of beautifully taken goals built since he emerged as an instinctively brilliant teenager for Liverpool in his first league match at Stamford Bridge, but he was still compelling in his movement and his craft and among his team-mates he plainly still carried a special aura.
Most memorably, he declared, "I wish I was Peter Pan and I could play for ever. I wish I was starting again because it's a great life. It's the only thing I have ever done. It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do. It's the only thing I've ever wanted to be part of. The day I retire will be a very sad one. To tell you the truth, I hate thinking about it."
Now, if his progress continues to delight Blackpool manager Ian Holloway as he scampers about the training field, that awful spectre is once more pushed back. In Brisbane he said he would go anywhere to get a game and he has been as good – or in the case of a match staged in war-wrecked Grozny for the propaganda purposes of Checkhen autocrat Ramzan Kadyrov – as unwise as his word.
He was player-coach of Muangthong United in Thailand and he volunteered for the aborted Indian Premier League. Even if Blackpool's Premier League adventure has already acquired a touch of nostalgia, Fowler will no doubt be thrilled by a return to action in his homeland. He scoured the world in search of the old light and now he has found some along the Golden Mile, where so much illumination was once supplied by Sir Stanley Matthews.
Yes, he agrees, he has made his mistakes – not least when he simulated the sniffing of a line of cocaine during a league match with Everton and made an obscene gesture to opponent Graeme Le Saux. He paid, though, with suspensions and fines and made good on his contrition.
In Brisbane he talked about the sadness that accompanies the glory – and had special regrets for the fate of Paul Gascoigne.
"I feel very sorry for Gazza," he said, "because apart from any other issues he seems lost and yet I know how much he loved to play football. He did so brilliantly, instinctively. From the first time he played he knew where to be and what to do and that is a gift which I also enjoyed to some extent. One of his big problems has been that he has had friends around him who weren't friends – and he lost touch with the thing that gave him his greatest strength, that made him what he was in the first place.
"Friends would get a grip on you and tell you to behave yourself and that you shouldn't be doing this or that. No one seems to have done that for him when his problems were developing and maybe because it just suited some people to be seen around him when he was the centre of attraction."
When Fowler talks of the hollowness that he fears is at the heart of such a fate, you understand a little better his determination to play for as long as anyone is ready to give him the chance. "If I could give advice to a kid just starting out," he says, "I would say, 'Enjoy every minute of it while you can because you'll learn soon enough that it doesn't last for ever."
Enjoy what, precisely? Mostly the sense that you are using the gifts that have been offered. That you have been liberated from so many of the basic pressures of life that oppress so many of those with whom you grew up. That you have a talent that can provide not just an enviable lifestyle but something thrilling at the centre of your existence. Best of all, there is the edge of competition, the unrivalled exhilaration of match-day which can hit you as strongly in some bamboo clearing as it did at Anfield or Wembley
Back in Brisbane he was advised to keep on knocking in the goals, keep on living that which was at the heart of his life. The message in Blackpool carries the same force as on that steamy night in Queensland, when he was out of contract but sure enough that the story had still a little way to run
"Yes," he nodded and then shrugged. "What else would I do?"
Richards has no case for defence
Micah Richards claims that Fabio Capello reduced him to the lowest point in his career. Splendidly strong and progressive as the young Manchester City defender is, this declaration is rather strange because one distinctly remembers him being turned inside out at Wembley the other night by a certain Arjen Robben.
Admittedly it was a fate shared by some of his defensive colleagues – and being wrecked by this flying Dutchman is not high in football's litany of shame.
However, Capello was making a serious point to a young professional of great promise but in his opinion one who was still rather unfinished. Richards' primary role is of course to defend, an aspect of football that Capello, being Italian and one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game, is quite keen on. In fact he is rather passionate about pros knowing the principal reason why they are on the field.
Il Capo may have got quite a few things wrong in his England reign but this, you have to believe, was not one of them.
Kauto Star must eclipse Redknapp circus
If Harry Redknapp, putative national hero, will forgive the intrusion into his current airspace, it has to be said that for a couple of weeks the sporting nation is entitled to switch its obsession from the question of who takes over the England job.
Surely the most compelling interest now concerns the fitness of Kauto Star to score again in the Gold Cup he won back so historically, so sublimely.
It is, of course, entirely typical of the great horse that he should create still another drama. His entire life has been about making life difficult – and then revealing that it was all an elaborate joke. We can only hope that his latest prank will be consigned to history when he faces his next great challenge.
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