Monday, March 12, 2012
Hiring God for £90 a week
It was the offer he definitely could refuse. So, Robbie Fowler, Liverpool legend and the fourth-highest scorer in the history of the Barclays Premier League, how did a basic salary of £90 a week sound? Could a figure some £150 below the United Kingdom's minimum wage secure the services of a man still known to half of Merseyside simply as 'God'? Was it enough to make him a Blackpool player?
"They offered me a contract and I said no," the 36-year-old said. Factually accurate as that is, his initial reaction was rather more dramatic. "If Ashley Cole nearly crashed his car when he was offered £50,000 a week, I nearly self-combusted," Fowler added. Footballers are often accused of having an inflated sense of their own worth, especially since England's premier left-back deemed £2.6 million a year an insulting sum, but not on this occasion. "I just felt I was better than that," Fowler said.
That would be an understatement from an undistinguished player, let alone one of the great goalscorers of his generation. By impressing on trial with the Championship club, he had stumbled into contact with one of football's stranger financial models. While owner Owen Oyston, via one of his companies, was paid £11 million during the Seasiders' season in the Premier League, Blackpool's stinginess cost Fowler a swansong on the Fylde Coast.
"What Owen Oyston or [chairman] Karl Oyston took out of the club does not concern me," he insisted. One figure at Bloomfield Road who has emerged in credit is Ian Holloway, who had earmarked Fowler as mentor and impact substitute. Yet the manager's plan for catalytic cameos would have rendered proposed bonuses for 90-minute appearances redundant.
"The manager said I was going to be great around the place for my experience and my passion," Fowler explained. "I knew I wasn't going to be playing as much but the contract was going to be performance-based."
Instead, without alternative employment, he is free to watch Tuesday's Merseyside derby even though, as nostalgia is a growing industry and the Anfield public invariably revere past greats, some would happily see him in their forward line.
With 183 Liverpool goals to his name, few are better equipped to pass judgement on the current, misfiring strike force. "Luis Suarez has been fantastic in his all-round play but the one thing that is lacking is goals," Fowler said. A successor in the No. 9 shirt is a greater concern. "Andy Carroll would be the first to tell you he has had a bit of an indifferent time. It was a big price tag and maybe the pressure is getting to him a little bit but hopefully he will come good."
Anfield's expectations were rarely a problem in his heyday. More than Michael Owen and Fernando Torres, let alone Carroll and Suarez, Fowler was Liverpool's most natural finisher since Ian Rush was at his prolific peak. Lacking a £35 million fee, the local lad reached the 30-goal landmark in each of his first three full seasons in the first team. The best part of two decades later, another milestone was secured in more unlikely surroundings. Fowler's time at Thailand's Muangthong United included a 250th career goal.
The quest for fulfilment of the ageing player has taken him to far-flung locations. Indelibly associated with Anfield, he has strayed further from his native Merseyside. He spent two "fantastic" seasons in Australia with North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory and then tried Thailand. He agreed to play in the PLS, intended to be football's version of cricket's Indian Premier League, signing for the Kolkata franchise before the tournament was postponed.
"I always said when I was young that I would pack in young but football is the only thing I know and the only thing I have ever wanted to do," he said. "I wish I could play forever."
Along the way, his horizons have been broadened, the would-be Peter Pan feeling like the Pied Piper. His globe-trotting has enabled him to experience the size and devotion of the worldwide support for the Premier League. "I went to Thailand years and years ago during my first spell at Liverpool," he recalled. "I went into a shopping mall with my wife and got recognised. When I left, I was like the Pied Piper - everyone followed me back to my hotel."
Trips to Thailand have proved a learning process for Fowler. A six-month stay with Muangthong included a first taste of management, Fowler taking over on a temporary basis before departing in January. "I just felt the players had not given me their full support," he explained. "I felt I was treading water and they were not really listening. I wanted them to be more professional on and off the pitch."
They are words that might strike some as strange, yet a reputation for being a scally and moments of controversy meant a keen footballing brain was obscured. Fowler has dabbled in coaching, working with MK Dons, Bury and Liverpool, all on an ad hoc basis. He was a target for Ian Holloway for his character and insight as much as his famous goalscoring instincts. He has skills to show, lessons to impart and, he hopes, still more goals to score. Just not for £90 a week.
• Robbie Fowler is encouraging fans to enter the Barclays Global Fans Survey - a survey by Barclays to find out the views of Barclays Premier League fans around the world. To take part and be in with the chance of winning a trip to see your favourite Barclays Premier League team play live, visit www.barclaysfootball.com