The Irish Mail on Sunday
I wouldn’t have been as powerful as Roy to do what he did in Saipan, says Fowler
THINK of Robbie Fowler and you think of Liverpool. You think of the four-minute hattrick, diving headfirst into the net after scoring at the Kop and that infamous goal celebration in front of Everton fans when he pretended to sniff the white touchline in the aftermath of scurrilous rumours that he took cocaine.
He is God to those of a red persuasion on Merseyside because of his 183 goals. More than that, he was one of them, the embodiment of the club’s virtues.
But outside of Anfield his devotees were not so fervent. As an England international he found the net seven times in his 26 caps and never quite experienced the same reverence on the terraces of Wembley – although he did still manage to be a part of some special moments with his country.
In 1996 Fowler was the 21-year-old phenom soaking up the atmosphere of a European Championships held on home soil. Led by Terry Venables, England reached the semifinals before being eliminated on penalties by Germany, yet it remains the closest (along with the World Cup semi appearance in 1990) they have come to winning a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.
‘Not everything should be so intense,’ Fowler reasons. ‘I think if you’re intense you’re intense all the time and that can have an adverse effect on the players.
‘If you’ve got a manager or a coach who can be light hearted and have a joke but can be professional and perfect and the right times than I think that’s perfect for the players.
‘Players would relate to it more and give him a little bit more and for me that is the case. We had the hotel [during Euro 96] to ourselves. We could have a little bit of craic.
‘We could relax, I don’t mean it in a naughty way but we could be a bit cheeky within reason. That’s what helped us. To this day that’s why England done so well.’
Fowler’s last involvement with England came during the 2002 World Cup when he managed 45 minutes of action as a substitute against Denmark during a 3-0 win in the Round of 16. Sven Goran Erkisson was in charge at this point and the striker noticed a change of mentality under the Swede.
‘It was more serious. Players, instead of going in and mixing in the foyer of the hotel having a cup of tea, everyone was just in their room.
‘What works for me might not work for everyone else so it’s getting that balance for every player in the squad. I didn’t want to be stuck in my hotel room.
‘I wanted to go out and mix with people. Don’t get me wrong, I am dedicated and I always have been but there comes a time you need a little bit of a release and I think if you’re far too intense all the time it can affect you.’
The only talking point in Ireland during that World Cup was the absence of Roy Keane (pictured) following the events of Saipan.
‘I don’t think it’s for anyone else to say what he’s done is wrong or what he’s done is right,’ Fowler says. ‘That was Roy’s opinion. He felt that was necessary. The build-up was not as good as what we would have liked. It’s hard for anyone to have a go at him.
‘Would I have done it? Probably not, because I was not as powerful as him. I couldn’t have commanded the same respect as he would have got.
‘It was sad for Ireland and it was big news but for England we had a job to do ourselves.
‘I’ve met Roy a good few times and I really like him. He’s a nice fella, he’s the ultimate professional. He’s very driven and he wants everything to be perfect.
‘I don’t think it’s a bad thing because he’s been used to having everything right at Manchester United and he wants everything to be perfect. He thinks that will benefit him and benefit the squad so he wants everything to be right.’
Fowler was a Leeds United player at the time of the World Cup in South Korea and Japan and one of his teammates at Elland Road made quite the impression.
Robbie Keane scored four times during the tournament and shows no signs of slowing down in a green shirt.
‘Robbie’s a great lad, I loved playing with him and he’s still scoring goals for Ireland. It’s hard to teach it and even though I’m saying it’s hard to teach it, I don’t know what it is.
‘Being a goal scorer, it’s about being clever, it’s about being in the right place. I’d liken it to chess. You’ve got to be able to see things two or three moves in advance.
‘There are a lot of things, I think, that make a good goal scorer.’
Fowler should know.