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Sunday, April 4, 1999 Published at 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK


Sport: Football

The not so artful dodger

Robbie Fowler: On the front page for the wrong reasons

Robbie Fowler is once again the man on the front and back of newspapers - and for all the wrong reasons.

The Liverpool striker, already facing the possibility of FA disciplinary action for his involvement in off-the-ball incidents with Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux, may be similarly punished for the controversial manner in which he celebrated his first goal in Saturday's Merseyside derby.

Despite having established himself as one of the most talented and consistent goalscorers in British football at the age of 23, Fowler has already been involved in what seems like a lifetime of unsavoury episodes.

But the man nicknamed 'the artful dodger' by his critics and 'God' by his teamates has never been backward about coming forward, on or off the pitch.

The Toxteth-born Fowler signed for Liverpool as an 11-year-old schoolboy. After seven years at the club, he was already being talked about as the next Ian Rush after playing a starring role in England's UEFA Youth Cup victory in 1993.

Within months, he made his full debut for the Anfield outfit, and went on to score 18 goals in 34 appearances during a first season halted by a broken leg.

Record

He began the following season in record-breaking fashion, scoring a hat-trick against Arsenal in under five minutes, a feat not accomplished before or after in the Premiership.


[ image: Fowler and fellow England colleague Jamie Redknapp]
Fowler and fellow England colleague Jamie Redknapp
It was to prove the start of a memorable year, picking up his first and only domestic honour in the form of a Coca Cola Cup medal in April 1995, and then being voted PFA Young Player of the year. He also managed 31 goals during a season in which he played every game.

At that stage of his career, few could have predicted the troubles that would plague him in future years. Just out of his teens, Fowler was considered level headed and mature given his outstanding scoring record.

Bust-up

An inkling of things to come was the nose injury he suffered in a bust-up with teamate Neil Ruddock - who claimed his expensive shoes had been vandalised - on a return flight following Liverpool's 2-1 UEFA Cup defeat of Spartak Vladikavkaz in Russia at the start of the 1995/6 season.

Fowler's remarkable prowess in front of goal did not escape the attention of then England manager Terry Venables, who gave him his full debut against Croatia in the Spring of 1996.

He improved on his previous season's tally, scoring 35 goals in 53 appearances, while developing a strong partnership with the much maligned Stan Collymore.


[ image: Fowler in blonder and blander days]
Fowler in blonder and blander days
Yet his beloved Liverpool failed to take advantage of his or Collymore's goals, finishing third in the Premiership and losing the FA Cup Final to arch rivals Manchester United.

He picked up the Young Player of the year award for a second successive year, and was also a member of the England Euro 96 squad, although he was unable to break the partnership of Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham.

Eventful

The spring of 1997 was to prove an eventful one for the player.

In March, he was fined £900 by UEFA for displaying a T-shirt supporting striking Liverpool dockers in Liverpool's Cup Winners' Cup victory over SK Brann Bergen, despite having received praise for the action from his own community.


[ image: Fowler and David Seaman in the famous penalty incident]
Fowler and David Seaman in the famous penalty incident
The day before receiving the fine, he was also seen as a hero for his sportsmanlike gesture when trying to persuade referee Gerald Ashby not to award a penalty when felled by Arsenal keeper David Seaman in a crucial Premiership match

And in April, he was banned for the remaining three matches of the Premiership season having been sent off along with David Unsworth after clashing with the Everton defender in another Merseyside derby.

Signs

The signs were already there that Fowler, much like his friend and England teamate Ian Wright, was not the type to go quietly in the night.

At the start of the following season, he picked up another three match suspension after being sent off against Bolton in a Premiership match.

He suffered his first serious dip in form, with many critics wondering whether Fowler was struggling to deal with the emergence of new partner Michael Owen.

Just when it seemed that he had overcome that problem, he suffered a serious knee injury after another Merseyside derby, which ruled him out for the season and the World Cup.


[ image: Fowler makes his first start for England against Croatia]
Fowler makes his first start for England against Croatia
On returning from that injury in September 1998, Fowler revealed the torture of being labelled a drug user by many of his own community, and how it had affected his family.

He was also forced to explain the truth behind rumours that he was asking for over £40,000 a week to stay at Anfield.

Fowler signed a new contract with Liverpool in January of this year, but the move to secure his future has coincided with the spate of incidents which have called his character into question.

So the player whose style is so often compared to the great Jimmy Greaves faces the same problem as that player from another era - to have his world class talent overlooked because there are those who doubt whether his temperament has reached the same level.



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