Is Robbie Fowler ready for the A-League challenge?
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On Sunday, Brisbane Roar kick off their Hyundai A-League with a trip to Perth Glory. For new boss Robbie Fowler, the opportunity to manage has been a long time coming. In recent years, interest in the Leeds and Bristol Rovers positions was rebuffed.
To find work, the man affectionately dubbed as 'God' by Liverpool faithful travelled nearly 10,000 miles. But what can the Roar expect from a man whose previous experience was a short stint in charge of Thai outfit Muangthong United? He was the club's player-manager before hanging up his boots in 2012.
Fowler is no stranger to Australia. He played for Perth Glory and the now-defunct North Queensland Fury in the twilight of his career. His arrival has already lifted the malaise that hung over the club following last season’s miserable campaign. The Roar finished second bottom, shipping a league-worst 71 goals in the process.
The early signs have been promising. In Australia's preseason equivalent of the FA Cup [just add another F], Fowler's new-look side shocked champions Sydney FC 2-0 before bowing out on penalties to Central Coast Mariners on penalty kicks following a 2-2 draw. As Fowler later lamented, the Roar did enough to win the game. Failure to take their chances was the side's undoing.
Fowler oversaw a huge overhaul of playing personnel. Many of last season's squad departed and there have been a dozen new recruits. Many were plucked from England's lower leagues. But an A-League veteran was the crown jewel in Fowler's treasure hunt. Irish striker Roy O'Donovan joined after reliable spells with Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets. Fans expect the former Sunderland man to continue his rich vein of form despite turning 34 in early August.
Tom Aldred and Macaulay Gillesphey carry the load defensively. The centre-backs signed from Motherwell and Carlisle United respectively. Fowler needs the pair to shore up a backline that repeatedly cost Brisbane last term.
How will the Roar do under their new manager? That's a tough call. Fowler must whip a largely new crew into shape in short order to turn the club's fortunes around. Unhappy fans began staying away in 2018/19. Winning football is the only thing that will bring them back.
If two rounds in the FFA Cup offered any clues, expect attacking flair from the new Roar. That said, the key will be turning the defensive third into a fortress. Fowler brought in fellow Scouser and former Everton/Manchester City midfielder Tony Grant as his number two. If Grant can organise the rearguard into an effective unit while Fowler handles the attack, a top-five finish is possible. From there, hard work and a bit of luck can carry any side to the Grand Final.
This managerial move represents a huge gamble not just for the Roar, but Fowler himself. Should he fail, landing another job anywhere will be extremely difficult. Meanwhile, the club will trade in a reputation as a class outfit with three A-League titles to their name for a bottom-feeder label. That's something no one wants.