Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has praised Liverpool’s outgoing striker Robbie Fowler on his devotion to the Reds. Robbie waved goodbye to Anfield on Sunday after he’d captained the side in his last appearance at home in the Liverpool shirt. Gerrard was happy to hand the armband over to him for the day, allowing Robbie to have the send-off Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson had denied him in 2001 when he was substituted at half-time in what was to be his last game in the first spell at the club for him.
Gerrard said: “There aren't many strikers around like Robbie anymore, not just in England but around Europe. In his prime he was one of the best finishers there's ever been. When you think he took the number nine shirt from Ian Rush and managed to fill it, I don't think there's a bigger tribute you can pay to him than that.”
Gerrard was brought up supporting Liverpool when Rush was scoring goals for fun, and saw Robbie take the number over after Rush moved on. The shirt then fell into the wrong hands when El Hadji-Diouf wore it, before Djibril Cissé borrowed it for a couple of seasons. When Cissé left in the summer Robbie got his old number back, but now it looks likely to go to a new player: “The number nine shirt at Anfield is one of the most important and it's been great to see Robbie wearing it again,” said Stevie. “Whoever is lucky enough to wear it next year will have an impossible job on their hands replacing Robbie. If they're half as good as he's been for the club, they'll have to be a great player.”
Many of the players have spoken about Robbie’s influence at Melwood since he returned, but according to Gerrard it was almost like he’d never been away: “All the lads are going to miss him on and off the park next season. There was no-one in Liverpool happier than me when we signed him back. He just belonged here. One of the reasons he's such a legend is even when he'd left us the first time, it was impossible not to think of him as a Liverpool player. Whenever we had a big game against Everton or Manchester United, or in the Champions League, you could guarantee Robbie would be texting us wishing us good luck, or saying well done if we had a good result.”
Robbie arrived short of fitness but worked hard to bring himself up to a level that meant Rafa Benítez offered him an extension on his deal. He’s kept that hard work up despite not having too many chances to play this season, which has impressed Gerrard: “Everyone knows how much he loves the club, which is why he's always had such a rapport with the fans. Since he's been here he's worked so hard for us and been the ultra professional. It must be hard when you've been used to playing every week but you have to be patient and wait for your chance. The way he's reacted is an example to everyone. On and off the park it's been great to have him here. It's going to be very difficult for someone to follow him.”
Fowler said goodbye to Anfield, but there’s still a chance he’ll have one final appearance in the Red shirt: “I know Robbie will be working as hard as anyone to be involved in the Champions League final and you can't rule out the possibility he'll make a big contribution,” says Gerrard.
On Sunday Fowler himself admitted he was struggling not to cry: “At the end, on the lap of honour when the fans were chanting my name, it was a bit of an emotional time but I did my best to keep the tears in,” said Robbie. “With it being my last game at Anfield, I'd have loved to have scored but not everything goes to plan in football. I have had a good career at Liverpool and today I tried not to let things get on top of me. I think it worked, I felt I did all right.”
Fowler was unlucky in that Rafa brought him off two minutes from time to ensure he got a standing ovation, only for Liverpool to be awarded a penalty moments later, which Fowler would surely have taken had he still been on. “It's just one of those things,” he said. “The manager has been great and I can't thank him enough for giving me a chance by bringing me back to Liverpool. I know what he was doing in bringing me off and getting me a good ovation from the crowd, but as I've said before, things don't always go to plan in football. If I was on the pitch, I'd have taken the penalty, and if we'd have won the game, it would have been better.”
Fowler is hopeful he’ll be given a chance to make one more appearance: “With a bit of luck, I'll be involved in the Champions League final and we'll see what happens there.”
He was delighted with the chance to wave farewell to the fans who love him so much: “I missed saying goodbye last time and I'm glad I could to do it this time. I'd have loved to have stayed but all good things come to an end. Thankfully I had a decent chance of saying goodbye. I've thanked the manager and the fans have been fantastic to me, in the first spell and probably just as good the second time around.”
He claims he’s yet to be offered anything for next season although he’s also thinking purely about Liverpool for now anyway: “I've had no offers yet. We've got another game and I'm not too worried about what's happening in the future just now. I'm just focused on the next game and that's the main priority. I've not even thought about my future. The next game is massive for us. I want to focus on that, and whatever happens after that we'll see.”
He was down as fifth penalty taker in the semi-final against Chelsea, but wasn’t needed thanks to the other players. If the final goes to penalties there’s every chance he’ll be brought on to take one if Rafa’s in a position to do so: “I don't think many people could cope if the game against Milan goes to penalties but as long as Liverpool win, no matter how, then we'll all be happy,” said Robbie.
After Sunday’s game Rafa explained how he’d wanted the day to be a tribute to one of Liverpool’s greatest-ever goalscorers: “The day was all about Robbie Fowler and it was fantastic to see the supporters applauding him. It would have been perfect had Robbie scored in front of the Kop and it was a pity we got a penalty just after he had left the pitch. I wanted Robbie to take the applause from the crowd and that is why I took him off and it was unfortunate.”