Babbel, a hard-nosed defender, played 60 out of a possible 63 games under coach Gerard Houllier. That sort of return might not have been possible were it not for Fowler, who stood apart from the other English players at the club by immediately embracing the new recruit from Bayern Munich and making him feel comfortable.
“The only problem I had was I couldn’t understand him, because he speaks a really hard Scouser English,” Babbel laughed. “But he was always trying to help.
“He was a bit different to the other English players – they were more reserved, like ‘first we’ll have a look at him, can he help us?’. But Robbie was different. He saw the whole picture.”
It would have been easy for Fowler to fob Babbel off and focus on himself given his circumstances. Fowler was not a regular starter, and his tumultuous relationship with Houllier would lead to his transfer to Leeds United the following season. But it was in his nature to look out for others.
“The first moment Markus came into the dressing room, you could see he was a good lad,” Fowler said. “He wanted to mix straight away, he wanted to be part of the dressing room, which is highly important.”
That season ended with a remarkable week in which Liverpool beat Arsenal 2-1 in the FA Cup final, pipped Alavés 5-4 to win the UEFA Cup final – and then prevailed 4-0 over Charlton Athletic to lock in third spot on the Premier League table and a Champions League berth.
It meant celebrations had to be put on hold after both of those trophy wins, but they more than made up for it when the time came. Fowler, of course, was front and centre of what Babbel described as a “fantastic party.”
“Big players always know how to celebrate,” he said. “They know when you have to be focused and when you have to be professional. They are top-class on and off the pitch.”
That balance, Babbel believes, will make Fowler a successful coach. And while they’ll be enemies this weekend, but they’ll always have each other’s backs.
The last time they saw each other, at a gathering of A-League coaches and CEOs in Sydney, Fowler gave Babbel a few tips on the Central Coast Mariners, who the Roar had faced in the FFA Cup and who the Wanderers were due to meet in a pre-season fixture.
“He’s a fantastic guy, and if I have the chance to give something back I will do it because he helped me. It’s probably normal that I help him,” Babbel said. “But now we are not talking to each other.”
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.