England place is next target for Fowler

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The Independent Online

Robbie Fowler left Anfield because he could no longer take being a bit-part player for club or country. As he stood amid the golden Georgian buildings of Leeds' training complex at Thorp Arch, spiritually light years removed from Liverpool's spartan base at Melwood, Fowler yesterday admitted that with a World Cup looming he had to seize a chance for regular first-team football at a club who first tried to sign him two years ago.

His move to Leeds was welcomed by the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, who commented that it was hard to judge a player's merits on the bench. "Undoubtedly, this will help me with England," said Fowler.

"It is hard with three [international] strikers at one club. I feel I am going to get a better chance at Leeds and the rest of it is down to me. People say you don't reach your peak as a footballer until you're 27 and I am coming to my peak year. I did miss out on the World Cup last time and I don't want it to happen again."

Once the Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, made it clear that Michael Owen and Emile Heskey would be his first-choice pairing, Fowler became a peripheral figure at Anfield and yesterday he criticised the policy of striker-rotation that has left half-a-dozen Premiership forwards considering their future.

"I don't think anyone favours it. You rely on games, you rely on goals. If you're scoring goals, the better your confidence is. That's what I've missed, the confidence."

Houllier had said that physical rather than mental fitness was Fowler's greatest obstacle to regular first-team football and yesterday the player indicated that the club he joined as a schoolboy did not try terribly hard to keep him. Despite talk that he would be offered a new contract, he said no document was produced.

"A lot of people have gone on about 'Will he sign a new contract?' But you cannot sign a contract if it's not there. It was not on the table when I left. They may have been preparing one, but I needed a change because I haven't been playing as well as I would have liked."

Liverpool also requested that the size of the fee they received from Leeds remain undisclosed, although £11m is the most often-quoted figure. The club had originally wanted £15m for one of their most precious assets, but Fowler said yesterday this had been reduced for a quick sale.

Despite the disputes with Houllier and his assistant, Phil Thompson, Fowler says he regards Liverpool, the city and club, with only affection. "I wasn't able to say goodbye, not to the players and not to the fans," said Fowler, whose last act at Anfield was to be substituted just before half-time against Sunderland. "That's what probably upset me the most. Regardless of what's been said, I did get on with the management. You do have blips, but we are grown men and we get over it."

Rio Ferdinand, Fowler's new captain, claims his outlook on life and football has been refreshed by a move to Yorkshire from London. On Merseyside, Fowler's liking for night-life led to the occasional unprovoked attack and some unpleasant headlines but, although he will move his family to Yorkshire, he will one day return.

"Regardless of what's gone on in clubs and bars, I still love the place," he said. "I am going to go back there after my career's finished because that's where all my family are. I still want the people of Liverpool to hold me in high esteem."

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