Opinion

Fowler can repair image of British coaches down under

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The story of British coaches in the A-League is not one that makes for happy reading.

The likes of Steve McMahon, Jim Magilton and Terry Butcher came, saw little and then were back heading back  north before you could say ‘Pommie Mafia’

This was a part of a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1987 after 14 years of Eric Worthington being national director of coaching at Soccer Australia. During that time, the Englishman made 21 state coaching appointments of which 17 were British. 

“Nowhere else in the world would such a bloc be tolerated,” declared Mike Cockerill. “While other developing nations have opened their borders to the expertise of foreign coaches they have not done so en masse... At a time when world football has developed a cosmopolitan theme, when even in England the Football Association has recognised the value of European and South American ideas, the Australian coaching system is still tied to a rigidly British approach.”

No longer is that the case with the influence of British coaches not what it was and neither is their reputation. Managers from the UK have often been regarded as tactically backward, and too into the long ball and the short-term. 

It doesn’t help when the best teams in the English Premier League are led by foreign tacticians. Some of the old guard are still around but there is a new generation of highly-trained young British coaches that are working lower down the leagues and, increasingly, abroad too.

British coaching has visibly improved in recent years. England won the U17 and U20 World Cups in 2017, the men and women got to the last four of the last senior World Cups and that comes, partly, down to hard work in terms of coaching education. 

Robbie Fowler is not really part of this new generation but then he had a hugely successful playing career, is known around the world and also is a very successful businessman. He does not need to work. 

In Australia though it would help the reputation of British coaches if Robbie Fowler can do something special as head coach of Brisbane Roar. The former England striker has the stature to really change perceptions --if he can have success.

There wasn’t much time to get a taste of that with his only coaching job to date, a short stint with Thai titans Muangthong United. Being in charge of one of Southeast Asia’s biggest teams is far from easy and was perhaps too much too early for a coaching novice. Plenty of more experienced coaches have struggled in the colourful world of Thai football.

Brisbane will be more familiar culturally though he is still bringing in plenty of recruits from the United Kingdom. It remains to be seen if this is a successful policy but in the end, it and Fowler will be judged on results.

This is a turning point in Fowler’s managerial career. Do well at Brisbane and a path opens up before him that could lead in any direction. He has the name and stature and is halfway there. But failure could mean, especially as he has plenty of other interests, that it all fizzles out. 

Success would also help the A-League. Fowler still has a name value in the game that local coaches can’t match. Positive international headlines about him and his team can’t do Aussie football any harm. 

And it will also help the cause of British coaches in Australia. If Fowler, who was a magnificent player to watch in his pomp, can get Brisbane playing the flowing football that the club  --and his former Liverpool team -- has been famous for, then that will help end the old stereotype that British coaches produce unimaginative football.

And then if he can  get the results at the same time, then there may be a few more opportunities for British coaches even if the days of the Pommie Mafia are well and truly over.