As the A-League reaches its finals stage, Brisbane Roar have begun clearing the decks following a miserable season that saw them finish ninth in the ten-team competition.
The Roar have been in limbo since December when John Aloisi resigned as head coach and was replaced by Darren Davies who tried valiantly to keep the sinking ship afloat.
With no chance of making the six-team finals series and relegation a non-issue in the A-League, Brisbane trundled to the end of the campaign with a series of poor results that included 6-1 and 5-3 defeats to the Newcastle Jets and Adelaide United in the last two games.
Sandwiched between those fixtures was the announcement of a new era at the club as former Liverpool and England striker Robbie Fowler was confirmed as Aloisi’s permanent replacement on a two-year contract.
Fowler is no stranger to the A-League having spent two seasons in Australia with the North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory, scoring 18 goals in 54 games, and his prior knowledge of the salary cap system’s constraints will no doubt prove valuable.
However, there are question marks around the 44-year-old’s previous head coaching experience at senior level – he was briefly in charge of Thai side Muangthong United in 2011 but is otherwise untested.
Fowler had a stint at MK Dons as a coaching assistant on an ad hoc basis in 2011 and in October 2013, he took up a position with the Liverpool academy while also acting as a global ambassador for the club.
He has all the requisite qualifications to be an A-League head coach but the official Brisbane Roar statement accompanying his appointment left many scratching their heads.
“44-year old Fowler, with his combination of success and experience at the highest level of world football, was a stand-out candidate for the vacant Head Coach position,” it read.
The Roar gig attracted interest from coaches across the world with over 100 candidates believed to have applied, yet the inexperienced Fowler was deemed the best choice.
Fowler is the sixth highest goalscorer in Premier League history and there is no doubting that he is a big-name acquisition in global terms – his arrival at Muangthong United saw the club sell 10,000 number 9 shirts in the first week following his signing – but that popularity is based on his prowess as a striker and not his managerial skills.
Is a man whose only head coaching experience was a few weeks in charge of a Thai club eight years ago really the right man to turn around the fortunes of one of Australia’s biggest clubs? Fowler believes so.
“I want everyone to get behind me like they have done for every single manager that’s been here,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“There’s going to be lots of work to do and I feel as though I’m the man to do that and bring the good old days back because the city needs it and the club deserves it.”
It’s nearly five years since Liverpool took on Brisbane Roar in a friendly at Suncorp Stadium in front of a crowd of around 50,000, and the Reds remain the most supported Premier League club in Australia having also played to packed stadiums in Melbourne and Adelaide in recent years.
This is no doubt something that was considered by the owners of Brisbane Roar as they look to get supporters back on side after crowds dwindled this season with each passing home game.
The A-League as a whole is constantly chasing short term sugar hits to capture the public interest, though the tactic is usually used on marquee players rather than big name head coaches.
Of course, everybody has to start somewhere, and Fowler will be given every opportunity to stamp his impression on the club.
The playing group is being given an overhaul – long time skipper and club legend Matt McKay has decided to hang up his boots, while 12 other players were shown the door earlier this week.
That leaves just 10 contracted senior players and Fowler will have some good connections in the game for the Roar to tap into as the rebuild begins.
“I’ve spoken to a few players…I know what players I want to bring in,” said Fowler at his unveiling.
Under Ange Postecoglou, Brisbane Roar were the benchmark club in the A-League as they won the 2011, 2012 and 2014 Grand Finals and went 36 games unbeaten between the 2010/11 and 2011/12 campaigns.
Since Postecoglou’s departure, the Roar have tried desperately to recreate that magic through Rado Vidosic, Mike Mulvey, Frans Thijssen and John Aloisi with little success.
The baton has now been handed to Fowler who has five months to get his feet under the table and mould a squad before the 2019/20 season gets underway.
If Fowler succeeds, it could set him up for a long career in the coaching game, but failure will prove the cynics right and he will be labelled as just another big-name player who couldn’t make a successful transition to the dugout.