Rafael Benítez paid tribute to Robbie Fowler, and said there were “possibilities” he’d be retained next season too. On Saturday Robbie scored two penalties, taking his season total to seven, as Liverpool beat Sheffield United 4-0.
With Liverpool agreeing a Bosman deal with Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin to join the club in the summer, it does seem on the face of it that Fowler second spell at Anfield is coming to an end – but Rafa refused to say that was the case. He said of Fowler: “If he can score goals every game, we will see, you never know. You know that we have good strikers and good possibilities. Now we have a lot of games to play so it’s better to be focused on those games. We can talk about his future later.”
Rafa likes to have options in his squad, “possibilities” as he calls them. Fowler may be coming to the end of his career, but he’s a fitter player than when he arrived and his natural abilities are unmatched at the club according to the boss: “He’s a really good finisher, the best we have. Finishing, he’s really good. If he’s not with us next season, we’ll need to look for another one like him.”
It was Fowler who set Steven Gerrard up for the fourth goal on Saturday. Fowler has had some injury troubles this season which have kept him out of contention, married to the fact that Rafa will only name three strikers in his squad of 16 for league games. Fowler’s start on Saturday was just his third league start of the season, the last one being in September at Goodison. Benitez explained why he felt Fowler was right for Saturday’s match, as opposed to the other strikers at his disposal: “If we can create chances for him, we know that he’s a very good finisher. The question now is we have four very good strikers with different skills and qualities. In the air you can use Crouch, Kuyt will work hard between the lines, and running behind the defence will be Bellamy. We thought they would play deep on Saturday, so I wanted Crouch to win balls in the air and Robbie could operate in and around the box to take the chances.”
Crouch suffered a broken nose after being kicked in the head on Saturday so Rafa’s plans had to change half-way through the first half. Brought on for Crouch was Dirk Kuyt, who hailed Robbie as a legend: “I think Robbie has shown us yet again that he’s a legend. It’s hard when you’re not in the squad all the time and not always playing, and yet he scored twice and also played really well. He’s very important for the team, even when he’s not on the pitch with us. It’s unbelievable the way he finishes his penalties. He’s still got a very cool head and is a very good player.”
Kuyt would like to see Robbie stay – impressed also with the way he influences the squad off the field: “I think Robbie is, like I said, just very important for the team. Even off the pitch he tries to help the younger people, like me when I first came here. That’s really important, but the final decision isn’t up to me.”
The striker who sat out Saturday’s game was Craig Bellamy. Subject of allegations claiming he had attacked team mate John Arne Riise with a golf club, Bellamy was rested after his excellent performance midweek in the win over Barcelona. Some felt that Bellamy would be getting shipped out this summer as a result of the incident, but it does seem that the stories were exaggerated. Now John Arne himself has said he hopes Bellamy will be staying: “Craig is a great player and we all want great players at this club. He always works very hard for the team. It is not up to me to decide what the future is for Craig at Liverpool. My job is to focus on what I am doing for the team, but I would like to see him stay here. It was destiny that it should be me and Bellamy who scored the goals.”
Riise says that he and Bellamy agreed that they would bury the hatchet and leave the incident in the past: “We both had a tough week after Portugal but we had the courage to put all the problems behind us. Craig and I are men, we are mature, we are team players. We spoke about what happened but the important thing was we agreed we could put it behind us and we are happy. To score against Barcelona was great but we did it for the team not for ourselves. The spirit is strong between us. We knew everyone would expect us to fail after what happened in Portugal. But it wasn’t about John Arne Riise or Craig Bellamy. It was a victory for Liverpool.”
It will be an interesting summer with regards Liverpool’s strikers. If Robbie Fowler is offered a new deal he’ll almost certainly take it, but with Voronin on his way in that would leave Rafa with five first-team strikers available to choose from. Is that one too many, and is Rafa also looking at bringing in a big-name striker too? Expect a long summer of speculation once again.