After Brisbane, Fowler needs success in India


The appointment of Robbie Fowler as head coach of historic Kolkata club East Bengal gives Australian fans even more reasons to watch the Indian Super League (ISL) when the new season starts next month.

In the short-term, the arrival of the ex-Brisbane Roar boss is likely to mean more players heading from the A-League to the ISL.

Indian reporters have already said that he is looking at bringing two or three players from down under.

Over half of the league’s eleven teams have an Australian player and English striker Adam Le Fondre leaving Sydney for Mumbai shows that it is not just the Aussies in demand.

The feeling is that if you can do it in Australia, then you can do it in India and at a reasonable cost too.

The job is a big one. East Bengal are one of the oldest clubs in Asia and their city derbies with Mohun Bagan can attract over 100,000 fans.

EB have just been taken over and the new owners are investing and have also gained entry into the ISL, India’s top tier, for the first time.

Appointing Fowler is a statement of intent and another sign that India’s domestic football is becoming a force in Asia.

Next year, we will see a team from the subcontinent in the group stage of the AFC Champions League for the very first time.

The Englishman needs his spell to be a success. This is already his third coaching job and he has yet to last a full season.

He was not in charge of Thai titans Muangthong United for long enough, just four months, to make much of an impression before leaving in early 2012.

Then there was a gap of seven years before he dipped his toe once more into the coaching pool, this time at the Roar.

His time in Australia started slowly, but by the turn of the year, it looked as if Roar were turning the corner.

Results improved and Fowler was named coach of the month for January and February and there were three straight wins in March.

Brisbane were looking good, as he told Indian reporters at the weekend.

“We will sort of delve into our experience in Australia, where we took a team from second-bottom and made them competitive in the right way," Fowler said.

"In terms of stats, we were far better than most of the teams in the A-League last season. We improved the team drastically.”

Then the coronavirus outbreak caused the league to be suspended, Fowler left Australia and never returned.

The exact reasons for his departure remain a cause for controversy, with initial reports that he left by mutual consent degenerating into lawyers being hired and FIFA reportedly getting involved.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, Fowler missed the chance to take an in-form team into the finals.

He needs the chance in India to show what he can do. His short spell in Thailand was followed by a spell in Australia that was encouraging but also short and ended in acrimony.

East Bengal may be easier, though nobody knows if the new owners will be the patient type or not.

Just as Fowler is in a new country, the club is in a new league and one that is being played entirely in the state of Goa.

This may help the new arrival. It is going to be a strange season for everyone, regardless of time in India, and all the teams will be playing in front of empty stadiums and at neutral values.

It will give Fowler a great opportunity to watch a lot of Indian football and many opportunities to talk to other coaches, officials and media. It will all be there on his doorstep for the next few months.

At 45, Fowler is still relatively young but a failure in India, to go with the inconclusive spells in Thailand and Australia, will count against him the next time he is looking for a job.

The shine of being a Liverpool legend only goes so far and lasts so long. Sooner or later, he needs success in India.