Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler is headed to East Bengal
Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler's start as East Bengal coach in ISL has been far from satisfactory. Image Credit: AFP file

Dubai: Is Robbie Fowler, the former Liverpool and England star and currently the head coach of India’s East Bengal Club, getting disillusioned with the country’s football standards too soon? The buzz has got stronger following his comments after his team suffered a humiliating 0-3 loss (to Mumbai City FC) in the ongoing Indian Super League earlier this week.

In a TV interview, Fowler said: “In all honesty, some Indian players look like they haven’t been coached before,” a comment which has stirred up a hornets’ nest among the Indian coaches’ community. This was in contrast though with his initial impression about the homegrown players when he said he was “more than satisfied” with the Indians on the roster in October.

The ISL, the new-look and cash rich league promoted by the Football Sports Development Limited (FDSL), a venture of the Reliance Group, is in it’s seventh edition and the champions of the league (not the play-offs) will qualify to represent India in the AFC Champions League. The century-old East Bengal Club, who made a late entry in the ISL as the 11th team in the fray this season, have now suffered two losses on the trot in the opening stages of the campaign - piling up the pressure on Fowler - for whom this is only the second coaching assignment after a stint with Brisbane Roar in A-League.

Significantly enough, Fowler’s comments have come at a time when the ISL themselves are trying to increase the participation of local players in the competition by cutting down the limit of overseas players in each playing XI from six till now to 3 + 1 (three foreigners & one player of Asian origin) from the 2021-22 season. The gulf in standards between the Indian footballers and foreign imports have seen several over-the-hill stars coming to ISL and leave their footprint here - thereby raising the brand value of the league - but not necessarily the standard of competition.

“The comment shows Robbie Fowler has some way to go before he can be called a good coach. You can say what you want to your players but behind the closed doors of the change room. In public, you defend them or say as a coach you couldn’t communicate what you wanted,” said Subhas Bhowmick, who coached East Bengal to the 2003 Asean Cup title in Jakarta, making them the first Indian team to win a club competition outside south Asia.

The ISL has seen many a glittering name gracing different teams as head coaches or mentor-players. The biggest name among them is the Brazilian icon Zico, who had been the coach of Goa FC while the other notable names include Roberto Carlos (Delhi Dynamos), Marco Materazzi (Chennai FC), Gianluca Zambrotta (Odisha FC) or David James (Kerala Blasters). Interestingly enough, none of them served a long term in the ISL and it would be a major blow for it’s image if Fowler cannot serve his two-year term with the Indian club.

Speaking to Gulf News, Subrata Bhattacharya, former international and one of the celebrated coaches of India, blamed Fowler’s outburst on his lack of awareness about Indian football history. ‘‘It’s not usual for a coach to slam his players when results don’t go your way, but it does not give him the right to make a sweeping comment like this. Does he know that India won the Asian Games gold in 1962 or finished fourth in the ‘56 Melbourne Olympics? He has no clue about the long history of the game in the country,’’ he added.