Venables vouches for Fowler's flair

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Football

Robbie Fowler, timing his arrival like a late run into the penalty box, may tomorrow get the chance to claim a place in Terry Venables' Euro 96 line-up.

The prospect of the Liverpool striker making a much-anticipated international debut shortened yesterday when Alan Shearer missed England's training session with a groin injury. With Les Ferdinand struggling for form, and Teddy Sheringham nursing a calf-muscle injury, Fowler could be centre- forward against Bulgaria at Wembley.

Shearer's injury is one way for Venables to try another striker without appearing to drop his favoured forward, who is without an international goal for 10 starts and 18 months. If Fowler plays, he would become Venables' 21st debutant in 16 starts.

"I would have no worries about playing him," Venables said. "When he came on in the B international against Ireland he looked like an old-timer: no nerves, just thinking about scoring goals. He has looked very good in training." Fowler, 20, is also upbeat. "I have always been a confident lad and I feel I can score goals for England," he said.

Fowler made his Liverpool debut in a Coca-Cola Cup tie at Fulham in September 1993. He marked it with a goal but really announced himself in the second leg when he scored five.

Within a year he was attending an England squad session but Venables has waited for his maturity off the pitch to match his coolness on it. "He has grown as a player and a young man. That has helped in his game," Venables said.

"I am still a young lad and I am going to do stupid things but this season I think I have grown up a lot more," Fowler said. "When I was first in the limelight I was in awe but I am handling it quite well now."

Fowler scored 31 goals for Liverpool last season but was displaced by Stan Collymore at the start of this campaign. "I was obviously disappointed. I had been top scorer last season and I did not expect it. I do not know why I was on the bench, they did not tell me, and I did not ask.

"When I did get in [after Collymore was injured in the second match] I was more determined, so it probably made me a better player. It has been different playing with Stan to Ian Rush. No disrespect to Stan, but I am working harder now. Rushie has always been the first line of defence for Liverpool and now I am getting used to that role. When I first got in the side I must have been a pain to play with because I was not doing any work whatsoever.

"I have learned a lot from Rushie. Even now he is not in the team he helps me. He is man enough not to be jealous of me being in his place."

Fowler has a dispassionate attitude to goal-scoring. He has hit 79 for Liverpool but keeps no records or videos, has no favourite, nor practises his celebration. Not that he does not enjoy it. "I just go mad when I score," he said.

Venables' other main selection problem concerns David Platt. The captain has not been available since the Umbro Cup, during which time the likes of Jamie Redknapp and Rob Lee have laid claim to his place while Paul Ince has been recalled. "I am back on top of my game and will be disappointed if I am not picked," Platt admitted.

Along with Shearer and Sheringham, Steve Stone and Rob Jones also missed training. An X-ray on Stone's foot injury revealed only bruising while Jones has a back problem.

Those who did train spent much time working on defensive permutations but the attention, as ever, was drawn to Fowler as he repeated the audacious chip he attempted at Nottingham on Saturday, and again hit the crossbar.

Looking on approvingly was another Merseyside goalscorer, Dixie Dean. Poster-sized replicas of Dean and four other deceased footballers (Bobby Moore, Billy Wright, Danny Blanchflower and Duncan Edwards) formed a backdrop to training to commemorate a new Royal Mail stamp issue. Dean scored 18 goals in 16 England appearances. If Fowler, an Evertonian by birth, manages half as good a ratio, he will be set for a long international career.

Last night's football, page 23

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