Roar’s Fowler move a gamble, but everybody will be watching


Proof that football is a completely irrational game can be found in Brisbane Roar’s appointment of Robbie Fowler today.

If he does poorly – as many critics are already predicting – then it will be confirmation of the bias against untested managers, particularly those who had wonderful playing careers.

But if he does well, he instantly becomes a candidate for positions in the English Premier League, something that no coach in the A-League can even dream of right now.

For the neutrals, the glorious thing about Fowler’s arrival is that it can’t be seen in shades of grey. It will draw polarising opinions for the duration of his tenure.

At a time when the A-League can’t buy a narrative, those running the game will be thrilled that Fowler becomes a one-man headline-maker. Success or failure, you can’t look away.

It’s a free hit for the sport as a whole. If he does well, the A-League may well be the first stop for the next generation of high-profile players looking to cut their managerial teeth.

If he struggles, it’s a sign that the A-League’s tactical level is more advanced than people give it credit for.

Still, anyone with skin in the game of Australian football must convey sympathy for the local coaching fraternity, where full-time jobs have become increasingly difficult to find.

Mark Rudan’s success with Wellington Phoenix was seen as the test of coaches coming from the NPL – talk about passing with flying colours.

We desperately need more top coaches going through that tier, either as their career entry point or the post-A-League rebound.

Given most choose to side-step it, we can’t build the second division quickly enough. But that’s for another day.

Fowler’s experience in the dugout is minimal: a spell as player-coach of Muangthong United in Thailand when they were the league’s dominant force.

He could only get them to third, 25 points behind runaway champions Buriram. Ex-Chelsea midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic won the title for Muangthong the following season.

In the years since, we’ve seen Fowler bounce around between punditry roles and ambassadorial work with Liverpool. Undoubtedly, seeing Steven Gerrard go into the deep end at Rangers has stoked the fires.

Curiously, there is some disconnect between how the public views Fowler and the industry view of the man himself. Many fans remember a spectacularly gifted striker, let down by injuries and an eternal battle for fitness as the years ticked by.

The stand for the Liverpool dockers, that “sniffing” goal celebration and putting Liverpool chief executive Iain Ayre on his shoulders spoke to the vibrant edges of his personality.

And with just 26 international caps, and only 45 minutes at a FIFA World Cup, some have pondered as to whether he got the most from his talent.

But Fowler and those around him have the inverse view. So does his former coach, Rafa Benetiz: “He clearly has great intelligence about the game”.

That’s the kind of opinion all of us hope to have by the time his stint in Queensland is complete.

Not that it’s connected to football, but Fowler has shown exceptional aptitude for decision-making in the investment space, particularly in real estate.

He’s built the most extraordinary property portfolio in British football. A shrewd Scouser if ever there was one.

On the plus side, Fowler has a virtual clean slate upon arrival at Suncorp Stadium.

The majority of Brisbane’s squad is off-contract and many won’t be around next season. A season like the one just about to pass gives licence to serious change.

He doesn’t need to transform the Roar to win hearts and minds – just stabilising the team is the first challenge. So long as a clear, demonstrable path towards restoring the club’s fortunes can be shown, patience will be given.

The Roar’s brand new $9 million training and administration base at Heritage Park in Logan is at least equal to every other A-League club and better than most.

A combination of that and Fowler’s aura is a massive advantage in attracting players.

If nothing else, it’s good to have people talking about the Roar again. God knows it’s been too long.