Eager Robbie is roaring to go
IT'S a cold, bright morning on the outskirts of Brisbane, and Robbie Fowler is in expansive form. The dress rehearsals are over and opening night is close, as Fowler prepares for his first game as an official head coach.
In managerial terms, the man who would become the English Premier League's sixth highest goalscorer is back to the night before making his Liverpool debut as a teenager back in 1993.
As he talks over his hopes for Brisbane Roar, the merits of Jose Mourinho and how Fowler the manager would get the best out of Fowler the player, you can see the anticipation of Wednesday's FFA Cup tie with Sydney FC is bubbling just below the surface.
"It's a big one for me, this game," he says, minutes after walking off the training ground. "I've done all the required (coaching) badges, and everything I needed to do to get to this stage.
"I wanted to do that for people to take me that little bit seriously. I love the game, I feel like I've got a lot to offer.
"It doesn't necessarily mean you'll succeed but I've done everything I can and I feel in a good place."
After 26 years at the top, he has some of the world's best-known coaches to take inspiration from - or, in some cases, not. Two words pepper the interview, and it's clear that "man management" will be central to the methods of Fowler the head coach.
"I probably veered more to the man managers, those who would drive me a bit more," he says. "I loved playing for Roy Evans (at Liverpool) because of that. I've got so much time for Graeme Souness for giving me my chance in the game.
"I played under Rafa (Benitez) and Gerard (Houllier) and maybe football was changing then where you got 'rested' which for me was a fancy word for 'dropped'.
"I was old school, and maybe I did fall out with managers. I wanted to play every week, and it hurt me not to play. If I have players here who are happy being 'rested', in all fairness I don't want them.
"I want my players to be challenged and driven, so the man management is extra special. You need that extra level in your locker to be a great man manager than a tactically or technically great boss."
THE MOURINHO FAN
Not surprisingly, for all that his first job in coaching is thousands of kilometres from European football, the contacts list in his phone can deliver some high-level support.
"I've spoken to ex-managers at Liverpool, ex-players, and everyone is supportive," Fowler says. "I know that if I'm ever in a spot of bother, I can turn to many people. I've got a vast range of mates in the game, and it's like anything, you're there to help each other."
You imagine there are few figures to whom he couldn't pick up the phone, even some surprising names, such as those who come up in the context of coaches he would have liked to have played for.
"I'm a big fan of Mourinho," he says. "I like his beliefs and what he does. Everyone thinks he moans now and he's a chequebook manager but I always think back to what he did at Porto and when he first came to England.
"I thought he was an incredible manager. I've met him a few times and I like the man. Whatever you see on the outside is not necessarily what you see on the inside. I was lucky to play a long time in football and you see different sides to people.
"I'm also a big, big fan of Jurgen Klopp, he's brilliant for Liverpool. With him, what you see is what you get. I talk about man managers, Mourinho was great at that. And Klopp ticks every box, certainly the manager I'd pick above anyone.
"That's not me being a Liverpool fan, that's me being a realistic player about the way he manages his players. People want to play for him."
FOWLER COACHING FOWLER
For a player who occasionally skirted with controversy, he relishes the thought now of having to man manage his playing self.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I'd give him carte blanche, but…" he grins. "If I have players who love the game I want them to go with their flow. Sometimes you have let players off the leash; if they want to stay behind and do extra shooting, let them, within reason.
"Towards the end of my career, everything was changing, everything was timed. I just found that frustrating.
"But I think I'd be a good manager of Robbie Fowler. I'd let him do what he wants within reason on the training park because I know it would benefit his game. I'd let a young me go and spread his wings."
It's instructive that relatively few of his contemporaries for Liverpool or England have struck out to coach at the top, rather more preferring the warmth of the TV studio. Fowler's path to this point has been slow-burn, taking every qualification possible and working at Liverpool's academy, but always with one end in mind.
"I was lucky in that I played the game because I loved it," he says. "You have a great lifestyle and whatever, but it was never all about the money. I played it because I loved the game and if I wasn't getting paid I would have done it anyway.
"Not everyone is the same as me, not everyone loves it like I do. Not everyone stays behind after training and does extra… well, even calling it training, for me it was a hobby and I wanted to get better.
"Football differentiates certain people. Some people treat it as a job, they walk in and play footy and go home to do whatever. For me it was football, football, football.
"I want to be a football person, in and around it all my life. That's the only thing I've ever wanted."
Live stream Liverpool v Man. City in the FA Community Shield with ESPN on KAYO SPORTS. Get your 14 day free trial & start streaming instantly >