In addition to its long-standing reputation as one of English football’s premier cup competitions, the League Cup’s record of showcasing the talents of football’s brightest young things has increasingly become its trademark. As we look forward to the next round of the competition, FootballFanCast is taking a look at just some of the famous faces to have cut their teeth in the League Cup.
Liverpool FC have a long tradition of nourishing young attacking talents – just look at Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard for two recent examples. Raheem Sterling might yet be the next. One name sometimes left off the list, however, is that of Anfield legend – and Thai hero – Robbie Fowler. Fowler, like so many of his present generation of home-grown football legends, made his Liverpool debut in the League Cup. The opportunity presented him by this competition opened the way for fifteen years of fame and notoriety for Fowler, who displayed his prolific scoring ability from the outset.
Having helped England’s under-18s win the 1993 European Championship, he was named as a starter for a League Cup clash at Fulham in September 1993. The Toxteth Terror lived up to the excitement surrounding his potential, scoring in the first leg before lighting Fulham up with a spectacular five-goal performance in the reverse leg.
The 18-year-old’s stellar displays captured the imagination of Liverpool fans as well as manager Graeme Souness, who immediately began regularly selecting Fowler for Premier League fixtures. Although the club didn’t perform particularly well that season, Fowler had made his mark – finishing with a team-high 18 goals in the 1993-4 campaign.
From then on, Fowler’s career was assured. He appeared in every one of Liverpool’s 57 games the following season, amassing 31 goals, and went on to score 36 in 53 in the 1995-6 campaign. Although these early years would prove to be the best of his career, Fowler’s prolific scoring in his first stint with Liverpool ensured his lasting reputation as a hero on the Kop, whose nickname for him reflects their admiration – “God”.
After reaching 100 goals for the club even faster than his mentor, Ian Rush – he needed just 165 to do so – Fowler suffered two serious injury layoffs which kept him out for extended periods of the 1997-8 season and forced him to miss the 1998 World Cup. By the time he returned, Fowler found himself third-choice under new boss Gerard Houllier, who favoured the ‘little and large’ partnership of Emile Heskey and the emerging Michael Owen. After failing to re-establish himself in the first team, Fowler was sold to Leeds for £11m in 2001.
Between then and 2006, Fowler remained in the Premier League at Elland Road and then Manchester City, but his scoring rate dipped and recurrent hip injuries would hamper him for the remainder of his career. A return to Anfield in January 2006 brought Fowler ‘home’, but by now the local lad was a shadow of his former free-scoring self, registering 12 goals across 39 appearances in a year and a half before leaving again.
Brief spells with Cardiff and Blackburn followed before Fowler took his talents abroad, enjoying two years in the Australian A-League and half a season in the Premier League of Thailand with Muangthong United, where he scored four goals in 20 games.
League Cup success became a theme of Fowler’s time at the top of English football, and the competition in which he had made his debut continued to be kind to him. In all, Fowler appeared in 44 League Cup games, scoring an incredible 33 goals. He was also part of two League Cup-winning sides at Liverpool, in 1995 and 2001.
Despite featuring in that 1993 European Championship glory, alongside future England greats Gary Neville, Sol Campbell and Paul Scholes, Fowler could never establish himself on the senior international stage. He might have scored five goals in four games during the under-18s tournament, but in the shirt of the national side Fowler registered just seven goals in 26 appearances, all but one of those goals coming in friendlies.
But thanks to that early start, Fowler was, for a few years, one of the most feared and respected goal-scorers in England. Perhaps his early reputation is proof enough that we should remember him that way.
Liverpool are still in with a shout of winning this year’s Capital One Cup and fans will be hoping that the likes of Sterling, Shelvey and Suarez can reach the heights that Fowler did.