Stuart James at The Hawthorns
Monday April 3, 2006
Kenny Dalglish knew exactly what he was doing all those years ago when he ferried a teenage Robbie Fowler back to his Toxteth estate in his Mercedes. It was a sweetener that not even a staunch Everton fan like Fowler could ignore. "You can imagine how good it was when all of my mates were there to see him," said the Liverpool striker, recalling the occasion.
What Dalglish, then Liverpool's manager, could not have realised was that the schoolboy he was trying to entice to Anfield would one day surpass his own achievements for the club. That moment arrived on Saturday when Fowler plundered his 173rd goal in a Liverpool shirt to move one ahead of Dalglish and up to fifth in the club's all-time scoring list. It is an extraordinary feat and one made all the more remarkable by Fowler's departure from Anfield in 2001.
That should have been the end of a Liverpool career which had brought more houses for his property portfolio than silverware for the trophy cabinet but an unlikely return in January has opened a new chapter. How long the 30-year-old's latest stay on Merseyside lasts remains to be seen though Fowler, who arrived from Manchester City in January, has already ensured that the homecoming has resonance.
"To get anywhere near Kenny is an achievement which I am greatly proud of," he said. "I thought the chance had passed me by and to get the call in January asking me to come back here . . . I am talking about being happy to surpass Kenny but I'm just happy about being here."
The feeling is mutual. Fowler's goals for Liverpool might not be synonymous with the success that Dalglish enjoyed but his status among Liverpool fans is unrivalled. The sense is that they would like nothing more than to see the man they call "God" given the opportunity to prolong his Liverpool career.
Not that Rafael Benítez, who plans to make a decision about Fowler's future in the next fortnight, is likely to be caught up in the romance of his renaissance. The Liverpool manager is far too pragmatic to allow his judgment to be blurred by that backdrop although his suggestion that goals will not be the overriding factor ought to assuage Fowler's fears. "Since I've been back I haven't scored as many as what I would have liked," he said, "but I've been relatively pleased and happy with the performances."
For all that, his contribution here was most telling for the goal that opened the scoring after only seven minutes. Bryan Robson felt that Fowler had strayed offside but the Albion manager's frustration would have been better directed at Paul Robinson who had allowed Djibril Cissé to escape. A fine cross from the Frenchman, who tormented Robinson throughout, was turned in by Fowler.
Albion never recovered. Careless in possession, devoid of belief and impotent up front, they looked every bit a side resigned to relegation. Not since October 1 have they occupied a place in the bottom three, yet that will surely change. With only two home matches remaining and Portsmouth rejuvenated, there promise to be very different scenes on the final day of this season than those at The Hawthorns last year when Robson was feted as a hero after keeping Albion in the Premiership.
A run of five defeats in their previous six matches suggested confidence was fragile and Liverpool proved as much as they cut through the home side at will. Robson must still be scratching his head at how his defence can be exposed by a 60-yard pass from Xabi Alonso, who had picked up possession on the edge of his own area. Cissé did the rest, drifting off Robinson's shoulder and behind Steve Watson before finishing with aplomb.
Zoltan Gera, who has missed most of the season through injury, at last provided some invention for Albion when he was introduced at half-time but it was much too little much too late. By then the match already belonged to Liverpool and the day to Fowler. Asked who was next on the goalscoring list, Fowler replied: "I haven't got a clue. I'm just happy to be scoring goals for Liverpool." Half of Merseyside is happy too.
Anfield's top 10 scorers
1 Ian Rush (1980-1986 and 1988-95) 660 appearances, 346 goals
2 Roger Hunt (1959-69)
492 app, 286 goals
3 Gordon Hodgson (1925-1936)
377 app, 241 goals
4 Billy Liddell (1945-1960)
534 app, 228 goals
5 Robbie Fowler (1993-2001 and 2006-)
341 app, 173 goals
6 Kenny Dalglish (1977-1989)
515 app, 172 goals
7 Michael Owen (1996-2003)
297 app, 158 goals
8 Harry Chambers (1919-1928)
339 app, 151 goals
9 Jack Parkinson (1899-1907)
220 app, 130 goals
10 Sam Raybould (1900-1907)
226 app, 128 goals
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