Fowler’s spell at Leeds would certainly not be seen as a failure. He would score a wholly respectable 14 goals in 33 appearances. However, the club he joined would go on to be beset with financial problems and he would be on the move again within 18 months, joining Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City in January 2003 as the Yorkshire outfit’s financial woes spiraled out of control.
Frankly, regardless of how he fared at Leeds and Manchester City, it never did feel right.
In September 2005, the ‘Toxteth Terror’ would give some alarmingly nostalgic interviews with the Guardian upon the release of his first autobiography, in which he looked back regretfully on what might have been. It seemed, not for the first time, that this was a feeling he shared with the Anfield faithful.
Then nearly 30, Fowler was beginning to look back on his days at Liverpool as what appeared to be a closed chapter in his life.
“Deep down, I was thinking maybe it could have been me lifting the trophy, I could have been there on the pitch, but I never moped about it,” he said after Liverpool won their fifth European Cup in Istanbul.
“I don’t want to say in an ideal world – because that would be disrespectful to Leeds and Manchester City – but I do wonder what might have happened [if he had stayed at Liverpool]. If things had been going according to my plan, I would still be there.”
Like Fowler, it felt as though, a legend though he was at Anfield, the man the Kop knew as ‘God’ had moved on and, following the club’s Champions League success in 2005, they were moving on without him.
The optimism following a triumphant European Cup winning campaign is only to be expected and Liverpool had begun the 2005/06 season looking to add more silverware to their coffers.
However, struggling for goals following the additions of Peter Crouch and Fernando Morientes to mixed success, and options for reinforcements as limited as you would typically find during the January window, manager Rafa Benitez was in search of a forward who could supply the goals his side were sorely missing as the Spaniard planned the first assault on the league title of his reign.
What would happen next would go down as one of the most surprising, but undeniably heartwarming transfers in Liverpool’s recent history.
Because in early 2006, ‘God’ would complete his second coming.
Out of nowhere, the former Valencia coach would plump for a player who was out of favor under Manchester City boss Stuart Pearce, behind a veteran Andy Cole and Darius Vassell in the manager’s thoughts.
In truth, the re-signing of Fowler was never going to be a long-term fix for Liverpool.
That said, in terms of re-energizing a squad that was struggling to keep up with its domestic challengers in the quest for an elusive 19th league title, the recruitment of Anfield’s deity was always going to prove a masterstroke.
Fowler’s knack for articulating what his adoring Reds fans were thinking would again be repeated, with the Anfield favourite, comparing his mood to being like “a kid on Christmas morning”.
“Since I have left, deep down I have always wanted to come back and it has been a long time but I’m glad to say I’m back now,” said Fowler.
“Leaving was probably one of my biggest regrets I have had in football.
“I’m chuffed to bits. I mean, I can’t believe it’s happened again so I’m ecstatic, to be honest.”
In January 2006, Fowler would reveal his regrets regarding his departure under Gerard Houllier in 2001.
“One of my biggest regrets in football is that, in my last match before I left, I was taken off at half-time against Sunderland and never really had a chance to say goodbye,” he said.
In truth, his first departure never felt right. Thankfully, on May 13, 2007, Anfield had a chance to address the underwhelming manner in which he departed Merseyside the first time around.
Fowler played 88 minutes of the final league match of the season against Charlton Athletic and left the field to rapturous applause.
It was a fairytale end to return befitting of the Kop’s prodigal son.
God’s second coming may not have been as glorious as his first – he would score 12 goals in 39 appearances – but that mattered little.
For a man who seemed so lost away from Merseyside, bringing him home was a masterstroke that nobody saw coming but immediately felt right.