The Liverpool FC great spoke about his move to the Kolkata giants, the philosophy he will adopt and what the fans can expect in his tenure.
A new chapter in the books of East Bengal awaits, as they are all set to play in the upcoming edition of the Indian Super League. Last month, the Kolkata giants roped in Shree Cement as their principal sponsor, thereby making their way into the cash-rich league. With that, they also appointed Liverpool great Robbie Fowler as head coach on a two-year contract.
The ISL new entrants subsequently held a virtual press meet with the new head coach and his assistant Anthony Grant. “I am incredibly proud to represent Shree Cement East Bengal Foundation. Obviously it’s a new club coming into the ISL. It’s a new club with a 100-year-old heart and staff around me. I myself including Anthony will give everything that we’ve got to make this club as successful as possible. It’s a real challenge. I know that it is a new team and a little bit late in preparation, but there will be no stone unturned,” Robbie Fowler made his first remark after his appointment.
Over the course of the competition, the teams will be in a bio-secure bubble in Goa due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking on the mental impact of staying in a bubble for a long time, Robbie Fowler said, “No doubt it will be a challenge. Football all around the world is going again and there are certain situations and certain circumstances we need to adapt to. We know what we need to expect, but it is a case for all of us to create an environment for the players to enjoy and that involves not going down the players’ throats all the time and giving them time to understand what we are trying to achieve. But, we need to be sensible in our approach. From our point of view, we need to keep the players ready and try to make them as comfortable as possible.”
The biggest draw associated with East Bengal is the iconic Kolkata Derby. The upcoming season will see the two giants square off against each other in the cash-rich league for the very first time. The Liverpool great gave his thoughts on the age-old rivalry by saying, “The fans keep rivalries alive. It drives the football club to be at their very best. Me and Anthony have been involved in various games and various derbies throughout our careers. We know exactly what it means to the football clubs and the fans. It’s a relatively new club coming into the ISL, but we know the rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.”
“We are football people and we follow football all around the world and continents. The ISL is a relatively new league and it got better with every season. So, now with the addition of us, we can make the competition and the team a success and that’s our aim,” he replied when questioned about his knowledge of the league.
East Bengal have made a late entry into the ISL and they have a task on their hands to build a team in a short period of time. Speaking on this particular challenge, Fowler quoted, “In football, everyone will tell you it is very hard to build teams. We’ve had a history in Australia where we built a team, we struggled and we won. Look, it is a challenge and we have accepted that and we want to do very well. As I said earlier, it is about getting all the preparations right and induce ethics and methods into the players and we will be doing that. It is a challenge we can’t wait to take on.”
“My philosophy would be for us to become competitive and we want to get good results. In football, it’s all about the right results and what I will say is, we will create a team that will work very well with each other and us the coaching group will try to bring out the same. We want to be a possession-based team. From our experience in Australia, we took a team that was second-bottom and made them competitive. As far as stats are concerned, we were far better than most of the sides in the A-League. We improved that team massively and we want to be competitive and successful as well,” he added.
On the team’s preparations he stated, “Most of the ISL teams have started the preparations and we are a bit late in terms of ownership switch over and getting our contracts signed. We know it’s there for us to adjust as we can. We are a team that will demand to work hard and we do know it’s going to be difficult, but least we could do is to be competitive. Let’s go match teams (in terms of intensity), let’s go get the right results. It is no different from if we were a team who were prepared and ready. We would have still had to get there and do all the right stuff. At the end of the season, we all will sit down again and will find out how good and successful our season has been,” explained Robbie Fowler.
The former UEFA Cup winner introduced his overseas staff and rendered, “When you are building a team, you need to have a great team around yourself. I have got Tony (Anthony) on board. He has been a tremendous coach and a tremendous player. He has worked at various clubs in the Premier League. Terry McPhillips is on board, his history is that he has been in academy football and has brought lots of young kids into the football system. He has also managed at the top level of English football. (Robert) Mimms has also a lot of experience and had a great career as a player. What we have got together now is a great team who are highly experienced in whatever role we see fit.”
He also seemed excited about working with former India international Renedy Singh, who will be part of his new-look East Bengal side. “We know how good Renedy (Singh) is and how good a player he was. We also know how good a coach he is. For me, to have a great team around me makes the club try and be as successful as quickly as possible.”
Previously, Robbie Fowler has worked as a player-manager in the Thai league, as a manager at Brisbane Roar in Australia and obtained his UEFA Pro License in 2017. He went on to share his experience and reflect on the challenges ahead saying, “The experience will be similar and we will try to bring out their best from the local players in terms of what we can do on the pitch. We’ll try to get results by a possession-based game and that’s what we are going to aim on the training pitch. We’ve got very good players within that squad and will try to make them a bit better. It doesn’t matter in what league you are coaching, you must improve the players and make them better and we are confident of bringing out the very best in them.”
Further, explaining his move to India and the reason for joining East Bengal during the pandemic, Robbie Fowler said, “My question is why not? We know how difficult it’s been around the world. We want to make people a little bit happier, we all love the game. My only question was why not now?”
“In my opinion, we have a very strong squad on paper, in terms of both domestic and foreign players. Of course, you all will know more about this in the next few days, as some of the names are announced officially. But, I would say that the fans can be excited because we have managed to get some really good players on board. Now, it is up to us to improve and become a team where every player plays like a marquee player,” he added.
Finally, when asked if he had spoken with anybody before finalizing the move to India, he answered, “Over my playing career, I have come across a number of top professionals, some of whom have played in India before. I know Owen Coyle had a great season last year. I know David James had a very successful time here as a player and a coach. So, yes, I have spoken to a few people and I am all ears if anyone has to share their opinions with me about how the league and overall footballing culture is in India.”