Former Liverpool star Robbie Fowler's entry into the A-League coaching ranks has serious implications for Australian football and his own career, writes Adam Cattell.
IN JUST UNDER a weeks’ time, the Robbie Fowler revolution will be officially underway when Brisbane Roar travel to reigning premiers Sydney FC in the Round of 32 in the FFA Cup.
The tie represents a difficult start for Fowler and his new look charges, but what can the Roar fans and the Australian Footballing public expect from this comparatively rookie manager?
Undoubtedly Fowler brings some bona fide football royalty to this year’s A-League competition. His 163 English Premier League (EPL) goals during a stellar career making him the competition's seventh highest goal scorer of all time. Most of these came in the red of Liverpool, where of course he is still highly revered by the Anfield faithful and affectionately known as "God".
However, in terms of his coaching credentials, Fowler’s record is far more modest. He has had just a brief stint in charge of Thai outfit Muangthong United as player-manager before hanging up his boots in 2012.
Some doubters – much to his chagrin – claim this lack of experience hangs a major question mark over his suitability. Upon his unveiling in Brisbane, Fowler shot this down himself, pointing to his UEFA Pro-license and many years coaching in Liverpool’s academy. Fowler has certainly been on the hunt for a management job for some time.
There were applications back in England at Leeds United and Bristol Rovers, without success.
Having seen his contemporaries Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard land high profile roles after their playing days with relative ease, perhaps Fowler may hold some justified resentment – and a burning desire to prove people wrong – at having to travel over 15,000 kilometres to secure his first major coaching post.
Fowler is of course is no stranger to these shores, with stints at the now-defunct North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory towards the twilight of his career. His arrival in Brisbane alone has already lifted the malaise that had hung over the club following last season’s miserable campaign. One might expect to see a spike in attendances which have dipped to an average of under 10,000 during the last two seasons.
In terms of playing personnel, there has been a huge overhaul with many of last season’s squad departing and 11 new arrivals in total. Many of these having been plucked from the lower leagues in England. But it’s a capture from within Australia that has caught the eye, with Irish striker Roy O’Donovan joining after being a consistent scorer in his spells with Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets. Hopes will be pinned that the 33-year-old can continue this vein of form in a Roar jersey.
New defensive recruit Tom Aldred will be tasked with the responsibility of shoring up a backline which leaked a huge 71 goals last season — the most in the competition. The 28-year-old stopper making the move after a spell in Scotland with Motherwell.
One survivor from last season’s debacle is forward Dylan Wenzel-Halls. The youngster was a rare highlight in a season to forget. It will be interesting to see whether the former Western Pride frontman will continue to flourish under Fowler’s tutelage.
In terms of predicting the Roars prospects for the upcoming 2019/20 campaign, it’s a tough call. Fowler will be hoping that his new signings are able to gel quickly and entice those stay-away fans back.
We should expect to see a lot of attacking flair on show. But the key will probably be if Fowler, who has brought in former Everton midfielder Tony Grant as his number two, can shore up the defensive frailties that cost them so dearly last year. If that happens, perhaps a top five berth is a realistic target.
Let’s not forget this managerial move represents a huge gamble not just for the Roar, but Fowler himself. Should he fail here, it would be hard to see him land another job in the future whether that be in the UK or abroad.
But if he can bring back the glory days to the Brisbane it could be a springboard for him to move on to even bigger things. Australian fans and the wider footballing world will be watching closely.
Adam Cattell is a school teacher with a passion for grassroots football. You can follow him @catter100.
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