Fowler and Liverpool fans thrilled by his astonishing return to Anfield

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The Independent Football

Superficially, the transfer which broke shortly after 5pm yesterday involved a fading former England striker going back to his old club on a free transfer. But in reality Robbie Fowler's return to Anfield is the most jaw-dropping move of the season. Short of David Beckham pitching up at Old Trafford few deals could provoke as much comment, not just on Merseyside but throughout the country.

England's benevolent European Championship draw was forgotten as the news sunk in. The Toxteth Terror, forced out of Anfield four years ago after he fell out with the former manager Gérard Houllier and his assistant Phil Thompson, was back home.

"It's incredible news," said his former team-mate Jamie Redknapp. "Robbie didn't really want to leave Liverpool. Now he's back where he belongs".

That much was obvious to Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, who said: "I'm not sure I've ever seen a player quite so happy to be joining a club. People talk about having a lot of money to buy players but we've just signed a player with a passion and a heart for this club that no amount of money can buy.

"But he has not been signed because he loves the club, he has been signed because he is one of the best goalscorers ever to play in the Premiership and he can score goals for us right now. We are close to a very high level but with Robbie we can go even higher."

Fowler, 30, scored 171 goals in 330 appearances for Liverpool before joining Leeds for £11m in November 2001. That move did not work out and neither did the subsequent switch to Manchester City for £6m in January 2003.

Troubled by injury, he has not started a Premiership match this season. However, this month there have been signs of a return to form with a hat-trick against Scunthorpe and a goal in the defeat of Manchester United. So when the Everton manager David Moyes inquired about Fowler last week Stuart Pearce, the City manager, said he could not afford to let the player go. But when Benitez made the same call Pearce felt he could not refuse again.

"Liverpool are his dream club and he wanted to rejoin them," Pearce said. "If I refused him this opportunity it would not be good for him or Manchester City."

Liverpool have agreed to take on Fowler's £35,000 a week contract until the end of the season. If the move works out they will then offer Fowler a further year.

Fowler is eligible to play in the Champions' League but not in the FA Cup at Portsmouth tomorrow. His second Anfield debut, 12 years after the first, could come at home to Birmingham City on Wednesday. The Kop, which christened him "God", will doubtless accord him a rapturous reception.