Babbel, Fowler reflect on shared Liverpool experience before first managerial clash
Long before Markus Babbel and Robbie Fowler became opposing Hyundai A-League managers, they played side-by-side in one of Liverpool’s greatest teams of modern times.
In the 2000/01 season, Gerard Houllier's Reds won the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the English League Cup in an historic treble-winning campaign.
After playing alongside each other in that fabled team, Babbel and Fowler will write a new chapter in their football story when they line up as opposing managers for the first time, as Babbel’s Western Sydney Wanderers host Fowler’s Brisbane Roar at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday.
As he prepares to lock horns with his former teammate, Babbel reflects on the great season he shared with Fowler at one of the great clubs.
“It was the best time of my life,” Babbel said.
“It’s funny to say because I only played one season but it was always a dream for me to play in the English league.
“It was the only league where I’d say if I got an offer from there I will go.”
Babbel arrived at Liverpool on a free transfer from German giants Bayern Munich in July 2000, ahead of the 2000/01 Premier League campaign, and Fowler says his impact on the field and off it at Liverpool was instantaneous.
“You know what, he was brilliant, he really was,” Fowler said.
“First and foremost he was a wonderful player.
“What I loved about him was, he came to the club and was straight into the dressing room and involved with everything.
“We know as mangers now it’s important to get the dressing room right, and we are probably of the same ilk where we know how it works because we’ve been in that boat ourselves.
“Markus was a great guy in the dressing room as well as being a great player.”
“You knew he was – I wouldn’t say destined – to be a manger, but you knew he was vocal. If there was something that needed to be said he would say it in the dressing room.”
REVEALED: Markus Babbel's Wanderers tattoo
SOCIAL REACTION: 'Not bhed, good soize' Sydney Derby video goes viral
With Babbel at right full-back and Fowler joining Emile Heskey and Michael Owen in attack Liverpool went on to produce one of their best individual seasons in recent times, on the way to winning three trophies and finishing third in the Premier League.
And Babbel is well aware of the weight of his accomplishments in his brief spell on Merseyside.
“Unbelievable season, we played so many games, I think we had 63 games in this season and I played 60,” Babbel said.
“It was very hard and, if you know the English league, it’s a very tough competition.
“If you can win three titles this is something special.”
“I’m really happy and proud that I’m a small piece of Liverpool history, it’s really special for me.”
More than 18 years have passed since the final game of that season and since Babbel and Fowler have travelled on two very different trajectories. They will arrive once more at the same spot on Saturday afternoon when their respective sides run out onto the Bankwest Stadium turf.
Despite winning all three of their opening games, Babbel and the Wanderers are not willing to underestimate Fowler’s Roar ahead of the Round 4 clash.
“He’s in a similar situation like us. They also had a really bad last year like us, he’s changed a lot like us, and now they play a good style of football,” Babbel said.
“They play much better than last year, you see the difference, [they have] much more quality players now, like us.
“We know they will press us, they will make areas very hot so you have not much time to receive the ball.
“I think we’ve found solutions how we can hurt them. If we stay in our structure, if we are confident to play the style we want to play them I’m optimistic we can hurt them.”
After arriving in Brisbane for the start of the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 campaign, Fowler has found comfort in seeing a familiar face managing in an opposing dugout.
In Babbel, Fowler sees a template for success in turning a fledgling club back into the former powerhouse it once was.
“This is what I love about what [Babbel] has done now,” Fowler said.
“He’s probably picked up a team who were relatively struggling last year, not getting the points and performances he wanted, but the club stuck by him and thankfully they did because I think he’s had a wonderful start now.
“He’s got the team fighting, he’s got them firing and they look together an all-round better team.
“They look comfortable in defence, strong in attack and are winning games, so I think that’s down to Markus’ influence.
“We’re playing a team who are highly confident on the back of three massive, massive wins in the A-League.
“They’re top of the league, they’ve just beat Sydney in the Derby. Confidence-wise it doesn’t get any better for them.
“We’re not a million miles away but we know we need to be on top of our game to go there and try get anything.”