NO POINTS AND NO GOALS scored in the opening three games, coupled with injury problems, are not the only reason Robbie Fowler’s position as SC East Bengal looks in jeopardy.
The Liverpool FC legend was announced as SC East Bengal coach for the Indian Super League, it promised big things incoming for the team. It almost gave a feeling of the early Indian Super League days, where every coach was a marquee name; some teams even had a player-manager as marquees.
SC East Bengal have a presence in Indian Football dating back a century. When SC East Bengal’s entry into the Indian Super League was confirmed, it brought along a huge fan base and added expectations of heightened competition. Even with a rich history, SC East Bengal have missed out on major trophies in recent times.
Robbie Fowler does not have extensive experience as a manager. As a full-time manager, this is only Fowler’s second stint. The first being last year with Australia’s top-tier team, Brisbane Roars. He has been a player-manager with Thailand outfit Muangthong the season before. To Fowler’s credit, he did manage to help Brisbane Roars finish seven positions above the previous season’s position.
When the SC East Bengal squad was announced it looked over-baked to say the least. Indian players with a lot of experience but majorly injury-returnees. The foreign players include players who have played under Fowler in Australia and players from English Championship experience.
The opening fixture of this season was set up well for Robbie Fowler to win hearts and establish himself firmly for the season. Arch rivals Mohun Bagan were first up in the first-ever actual derby of the ISL. East Bengal played attractive but had no answer to Mohun Bagan’s two goals.
The second game against Mumbai City FC was worse for SC East Bengal. Three goals conceded made SC East Bengal looked the weakest in recent years. For Fowler, the manner in which the goals were conceded was troubling. The defence looked wobbly and it wasn’t the first time. It caused Fowler some worries that he could not hide. He made it clear in the post-match presser that he was not the least impressed by the repetitive mistakes.
Fowler made some explosive statements too
“in all honesty, some Indian players look like they haven't been coached before”…“We will try and make our Indian players better and that takes good coaching and I don't think they had had that in the years gone by.”
This definitely did not go down well among the fans and Fowler clarified has statements were misinterpreted.
Prior to playing the third game against NorthEast United FC, Fowler shared,
"This has been put out of context a lot. My comments were directed to my team. My philosophy is to coach a team to the best of my knowledge and abilities.”
"We have an intricate way of playing. We have an identity and a philosophy. My players haven't been coached like this here before. We are implementing our ways and trying to get the best out of them which means lots and lots of hours on the training pitch."
There was no consolation for SC East Bengal in the third game too. A 2-0 loss to NorthEast United FC left the team in anguish. But Fowler did not mince his words about certain Indian players who he felt have been below par. He said,
“We will coach the players because in all fairness few of them have probably never been coached before and that is what we are doing. We will try and make our Indian players better and that takes good coaching and I don't think they had that in the years gone by."
The news of injuries to a couple of players so early in the season has not helped Fowler’s cause. Aaron Amadi-Holloway is the one that may return back first. Loken Meitei and skipper Danny Fox’s injuries have the team hard. It is uncertain when they could gain total match fitness.
In the ISL, each team could sign up to seven overseas players which means SC East Bengal can still sign one more player. With two foreign players injured currently and other teams playing with five foreigners on the field, the SCEB Indian players may be required to deliver the results. This could be the point of Robbie Fowler’s frustration while mentioning the “never been coached before” comment.
Some of the referee decisions in the game against NorthEast United FC fuelled Fowler’s misery even further. Multiple denied penalty-claims just added to SC East Bengal’s bitter emotions.
One foot out of the door
ISL and SC East Bengal are no strangers to seeing change of heads after under performances of coaches or backroom vs. management issues. Last season alone, two coaches had their journeys end mid-way for each of the above reasons.
Robbie Fowler with his stinging comments about his own team players and the more obvious dismal showing is sign of clocking ticking for himself. If the turnaround is not seen in the next couple of games, the gaffer may just consider packing up. He definitely won’t consider coming back to manage an Indian team any time soon.