One of the Boys

All eyes were on marquee man Robbie Fowler last Saturday, but North Queensland Fury’s star striker is refusing to be caught up in the hype

Expectations are rarely realistic. Pressure is a matter of perspective. Desire is just as important as success.

This is the message of Robbie Fowler, marquee man for North Queensland Fury. After a decade playing at the highest level and fulfilling the expectations of the most demanding fans, it-s strange Fowler now faces questions about pressure and success in the Hyundai A-League.

Fowler was bred on expectation. At Liverpool as a 17-year-old, he was hailed as one of the most natural finishers the game has ever seen. The Anfield faithful, accustomed to seeing silverware at the end of each season, worshipped the local boy as he demolished every Premier League opponent he came across.

Now in the later stages of his illustrious career, Fowler is ready for a new challenge - and A-League pundits are desperate to see what sort of an impact he will make in the local game.

But the scouser remains calm and focused; hype isn-t part of the deal.

“It-s on the eve of a new season; there are lots of new players and two new teams so it-s an exciting time. Yeah there-s been a little bit of fuss made but quite rightly it-s all part of a new season.

“I just want to do well for meself,” he says, “and to be successful as a team - and I-ll settle for that.”

Forget what-s been written or said, Fowler-s here to do his job - score goals for Fury. The scrutiny of the Australian football media is nothing compared to the constant examination from hungry English hacks. Whatever expectation has been placed on him since his arrival, Fowler-s under no illusions about his ability to perform and the judgement of the press.

“If you play football and want to be successful, then you want people to talk about you. I hope it continues; I want to be successful and score goals.”

There is, however, reason to wonder about the striker-s fitness. Fowler has struggled to stay at full pace in recent seasons; some say his legs have gone, while others point out that a player of his calibre will always be able to find space in a competition like the A-League.

Fowler readily admits his pre-season hasn-t been the best, only making his debut late in a friendly against English side Wolverhampton Wanderers. But he says he-s ready and refuses to set any targets for his first Australian season.

“I-ve not played as many games as I would-ve liked, but I-m feeling as good as I have in a long while.

“If you set yourself targets and you don-t meet them then you-ve failed. I just want to do as well as I can and score as many goals as I can, but I-ll never set targets. It-s not because I-ve come to a new league; it-s just something I-ve never done.”

Other questions remain: How will he cope with the often oppressive conditions in Townsville? Has he had enough time to gel with his new team-mates? What role will he take in his new side?

Fowler takes all this in his stride and knows the talk means nothing; what matters is what happens on the pitch - and he is coming to grips with his new home as kick-off approaches.

“[The heat-s] not a problem, the amount of people who-ve asked me that… I give ‘em the same answer: Obviously the weather is warm but you do play in hot climates in other countries and as a footballer you tend to adapt very quickly. So far I-ve adapted quite well to the heat over here.

“I-ve not got a clue [what position I-ll play]. In the games I-ve played so far I have played upfront, so you-ll have to ask the manager that. I-m just a player and whatever role the manager wants to me to play, I-ll be happy with that.”

For North Queensland, what matters now is success in their first A-League game.

There-s no doubt the new boys face a tough test against Sydney FC. The Sky Blues are considered outsiders for the title this year, but new coach Vitezslav Lavicka has put his side through a rigorous pre-season and they look to be one of the fittest teams in the competition.

All eyes will be on Fowler when he touches the ball on Saturday evening - but he-s aware of the challenge facing Fury.

“I-m under no illusions,- he says. “It-s going to be a tough game, but we-ve got a tight group of players in the squad. Regardless of what happens, all the games are going to be tough. Saying that, it-s a great start to be playing against one of the glamour clubs.”

It would be easy to think of Fury as a one-man team, such is the attention being paid to Fowler. But while his input will be vital to Fury-s, the star import says this season is bigger than him - it-s the chance for North Queensland to prove themselves as a team.

“We-ve gone about our business quietly confident. I think we-re one of the favourites to finish bottom so it-s up to us as players to turn that around.” Bring on Saturday night…

This article appeared in the First Issue (Round 1) of Australian Football Weekly (AFW) for the Hyundai A-League 2009/10 season. Australian Football Weekly, on sale at every Hyundai A-League game for $5.