East Bengal FC’s late entry in the ISL 2020-21 season has been met with both ambiguity and awe, for the sheer way they got the job done. With the Indian top-tier football league likely to start in late November or early December, East Bengal’s entry could not have come any late with their official entry being announced on September 27, last month.
Hence, the uncertainty and under preparation that rode the final announcement was massive and one second after the East Bengal fans were convinced of their place in ISL, their immediate concern was how competitive they would be.
LESS BUT PROPER EXPERIENCE IN FOWLER
The appointment of Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler had left many sceptical. East Bengal fans didn’t have to look beyond ATK Mohun Bagan, who was managed by two-time ISL winning manager Antonio Habas, or Mumbai City FC, who roped in the talismanic Sergio Lobera, to compare how precarious their manager looks in the crowd.
However, a closer look would reveal it wasn’t a panic appointment after all. Leading A-League side Brisbane Roar to an eliminator last season, Fowler doesn’t just come with a nascent managerial CV in Asian football. The former English striker had also played for Thailand side Muangthong, which blends the proper Asian football experience of a player and a manager in Fowler who has already affirmed that he won’t waste time testing waters in the Indian Super League this season.
READY-MADE COACHING STAFF
The biggest hint of Fowler’s ambition with East Bengal has been the backroom staff he has brought in. While in former Manchester City man Anthony Grant, Robbie Fowler has a trusted general and assistant coach, who was alongside him at Brisbane Roar last season and knows his way of thinking, Fowler has broken the wheel to get in Renedy Singh as his second assistant coach. The former India international footballer will be of immense help in transcending the communication barrier and scouting Indian talents.
The most exciting piece of appointment, however, was that of set-piece coach Terence McPhillips. Indian football has never heard about a set-piece coach before, but modern problems need modern solutions. The former Liverpool youth product, who managed English third-tier club Blackpool FC in 2018-19, could be instrumental in improving East Bengal FC in ISL which has been seeing more set-piece goals since last season.
Apart from them, East Bengal also have goalkeeper coach Robert Mimms – a former Tottenham Hotspur player who has also worked with Jamshedpur FC (2017-18) and ATK (2018-19) under coach Steve Coppell. The contributions of sports scientist Jack Inman, physio Michael Harding and analyst Joseph Walmsley would be more gradual.
CAN EAST BENGAL STUN ALL?
It would be unfair to judge Robbie Fowler on his lack of managerial experience when the Indian Super League itself is just six seasons old. While ISL has surely seen experienced heads like Habas, Steve Coppell and Eelco Schattorie gaining success and credibility, it has also seen some newbies getting considerable success.
Italian World Cup-winning defender Marco Materazzi is amongst the young minds who had started his managerial career with Chennaiyin FC in 2014 as a player cum coach. After they finished in the play-offs in the inaugural season, Materazzi led them to the title in just his second season as a manager. The now-defunct Delhi Dynamos’ best ISL outcomes – reaching playoffs in 2014 and 2015 – had come under inexperienced coaches Roberto Carlos and Gianluca Zambrotta as well.
Football fans will have every reason to be excited about East Bengal FC because if ISL’s volatile past is anything to go by, Robbie Fowler cannot be discounted as a short cameo by any means.
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