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'God' hails new messiahs at Anfield

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Reds legend Robbie Fowler believes in Brendan Rodgers

Reds legend Robbie Fowler believes in Brendan Rodgers

Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Reds legend Robbie Fowler believes in Brendan Rodgers

HAVING sat through so many false dawns over the last 24 years, Robbie Fowler is cautious about getting excited about this new one.

Yet the man nicknamed 'God' by his team-mates is a believer. Brendan Rodgers is the anointed one, the manager who can restore the glory days at Anfield and bridge the gap back to 1990, when Liverpool won their 18th, and last, league title.

But it won't happen this year, he insists – "Chelsea are just too strong, not just for Liverpool but for everyone" – but down the line, Fowler can see the light.

"In Brendan, we have got a great manager who not only says all the right things but implements them," says Fowler (right).

"It is just a case of being a little patient because Liverpool have the right man. No disrespect to what went before him, but now I can see the togetherness there.

"That's down to him. Man-management is the key to success in today's game because you have so many players from so many different backgrounds that to bring them all together takes a special talent. For me, Brendan has that.

"He is intelligent but personal. He connects with fellas. You only have to look at the Luis Suarez situation to figure that one out.

"Last summer Luis wanted to go and nine times out of 10, when a player tells you they want out, they get what they want. But this was the 10th time.

"Brendan sat Luis down and made a connection. 'Do you want to be a Liverpool great?' he asked him. 'Well, you can be if you take us out of this place we're in right now.'

"Six months later, you look at Suarez and you see the third-best player in the world, a fella who is as good a striker as Liverpool have ever had.

"But to be remembered for ever and a day on Merseyside, you need a bit of longevity, to put down years of service.

"And I think that can happen. Sure, I'm not naive enough to think that if we don't make it to the Champions League this season that he will be easy to hang on to. But we might do it – because this club is different to others. It gets into your soul.

"You look at our past players. Jan Molby still lives in the area. So, too, John Barnes. The Irish lads – Ronnie Whelan, Jim Beglin; the Scottish guys – Kenny, Alan Hansen. They've all stayed here, 20 years after their careers have finished.

"Why is that? It's because the club gets under your skin. It's a special place in many people's hearts. And Luis can be swayed by that."

Yet a place in next season's Champions League would prove more persuasive than a tug at the emotional heartstrings.

And as things stand, Liverpool are on course to achieve that, the Suarez-Daniel Sturridge partnership yielding 37 goals already this season, with more expected. It's Arsenal today, Fowler's 'lucky team' when he was in his pomp, but a team who beat Liverpool when they travelled to London earlier in the season.

"If we are to make the breakthrough, then these are the kind of big games we need to start winning," says Fowler. "And I think we can."

Yet, if that is to happen, some issues need to be addressed. Firstly, there's Liverpool's defence, clearly the weakest link in the chain.

"Maybe that's a little unfair," says Fowler. "If we had Glen Johnson, Enrique and Daniel Agger all fit, then they'd go straight into your starting team. That's three-quarters of your defence. Having those three back would make a big difference.

"And is the defence a point of weakness? Or is it that our midfield and attack are just very good?"

It's probably a bit of both. But other problems remain – notably Liverpool's susceptibility to teams who attack them at Anfield, which Aston Villa and Southampton did earlier this season to serious effect, claiming four points off them – points that, more than any others they have dropped, have resulted in them falling off the pace set by the top three.

And yet, Fowler is not that concerned. Teething troubles aside, he sees a starting XI who could compete with anyone and sees a striker who has matured into one of the world's best.

"It's hard to believe Luis has been here for only two years because of the impact he has already had.

CHANCES

"Initially, I was looking at him and seeing a guy missing a lot of chances and I was wondering, what impact will this have on him? I needn't have worried. His confidence is bullet-proof.

"He is prepared to try things in games and, if they don't come off, he is prepared to take a risk again the next time. That takes courage.

"He isn't daunted by any challenge. He doesn't let controversies get to him. He's had his misdemeanours and served his time and he has come back a stronger person and a better player.

"And if Liverpool are to get back to where we belong, we're going to have to keep him because, where else are you going to get someone who works as hard as Carlos Tevez but whose goal return is just so much better? The biggest compliment I can pay him is that I would have loved to have played alongside him."

Instead, Fowler had Stan Collymore, Ian Rush, Michael Owen and Karl Heinz Reidle for company in a relatively unproductive period by Liverpool's lofty standards but still one which saw him return with 183 goals and five major trophies from his two spells at Anfield.

These days, he lives a quieter life. Now 38, his face has filled out a little since he stopped playing but has a relaxed look to it. He fills his time coaching the U-17s in Liverpool's academy in between stints as a pundit with Setanta.

Taking a stab at management is the goal he is staring at now. "The market place is flooded but I have ambitions to try it," Fowler says.

"I did it a little when I was in Thailand and I enjoyed the experience. It whetted the appetite for more."

LIVERPOOL V ARSENAL, LIVE, BT SPORT 1, 12.45

Irish Independent