Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler was announced as the coach of Indian Super League outfit East Bengal yesterday. Fowler has an incredible record as a player for the Merseyside based club, scoring 183 times in 369 games and even earning the title of “God” from a section of the fans. While nagging injuries kept interrupting his playing career, they couldnt prevent him from ending up as Liverpool’s third highest all time scorer and being seventh on the list of all time highest goal scorers in the English Premier League.
His arrival at East Bengal has been recieved with much frenzy, as is expected. Apart from the world-wide eyeballs that he is supposed to draw and the huge marketing potential, that he carries, here we look at Fowler, the manager and what he brings to the table for the Red and Golds.
Compared to other coaches in the ISL, Fowler would start out as “inexperienced”. His coaching career is still in its early stages, with him only having 3 assignments prior to taking charge of the Kolkata giants. Fowler’s first job was at Thai club Muangthong United in 2011. Fowler was still a player at the club when he was appointed as player-coach post the sacking of Henrique Calisto. After that brief role, he had assumed a coaching role at the Liverpool academy in 2013 . However, the most srcutinisable spell of his managerial career came in Australia when he took charge of A-League club Brisbane Roars at the start of the 2019-’20 season.
Heres a little background information – Brisbane (2 times A-League winners) had been going through a rough patch just prior to Robbie taking charge. The club had a 2018-’19 season to forget. The club conceded 71 goals in the season (an A-League record) and succumbed to a 9th place finish out of 10 teams. That led to the appointment of Fowler at the helm.
Aussie media has often remarked that Brisbane played for their manager, hinting at great team spirit and bonding.
Fowler brought in massive changes in the team set up. He recruited 14 new players (mostly from the British Isles) and changed the way the team played. He was seen prefering a 3-5-2 formation which would often morph into a 5 man back line. He has also used the traditional 4-4-2 in a few games while also expanding the 3-5-2 into a 3-4-1-2. One of the standout features of his reign was the defensive compactness he brought to the club. From conceding 71 goals in 27 games the season prior to his arrival, Roar went on to let in only 25 goals in 24 games in 2019-’20 before the season was halted, paving their way towards securing a playoff berth. However, Fowler’s focus defensive organisation came at a price – the team, while conceding very few, also scored the least number of goals in the A-League (finding the back of the net 25 times in 24 matches). Brisbane looked lethal on the counter attack but struggled to break down teams which sat deep. The idea in general was to avoid any mistakes at the back. This style of play didnt go down well with a section of the fanbase who wanted a more free flowing attacking style.
Coming back to East Bengal, Fowler has a huge challenge at hand. Apart from being new to Indian football, he will have to adjust to the difficulties that have come with EB’s late entry into the franchise based league. EB will probably be the last team to start pre season, presumably in the final days of October, meaning Fowler will only get just above 3 weeks to build a team. Add to that, East Bengal’s side is completely new, with most players not being there last season and having never played together before. However, Fowler does have a few things to fall back on. He will get the ISL’s most expansive support staff also the foreigners are reportedly being handpicked by him. Renedy Singh can provide the necesaary inputs on the Indian game. He has worked with asst Anthony Grant before and Robert Mimms has also worked in India (at JFC and ATK). He will have a sports scientist in Jack Inman and a unique set piece coach in Terry McPhillips (which no other ISL side has). He will also have fitness trainer Micharl Hardings who was at EPL outfit Newcastle United till September 2020.
Fowler is expected to arrive in India next week. While it remains to be seen how his reign turns out, heres something fans in India wont be very familiar with – he makes his opinions clear on social media and his press conferences have often beeing labelled “outspoken”.