Robbie Fowler's Brisbane Roar Surging After Slow Start
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Robbie Fowler returned to Australia eager to prove himself as a capable coach. The ex-Liverpool star, revered by Kopites as 'God,' had enjoyed two seasons in the A-League toward the twilight of his career — one apiece with now-defunct North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory.
He jumped at the chance to take on his first full-time coaching job with the Brisbane Roar in the capital of the Australian state of Queensland. While he spent a brief period as a player-coach in Thailand with Muangthong United, he harbored ambitions of establishing himself at a higher level in his post-playing career.
Upon his appointment on a two-year contract, Fowler said: "Why not? For me it’s a massive opportunity, coming over here, coaching a top club in a country I’ve always loved. I’ve worked hard getting this job. I wanted people to take me seriously; that’s why I went down the route of doing all the badges because I know people would take me serious then. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. ... I think I’ve shown people how passionate and committed I am.”
Fowler, for all his enthusiasm, quickly experienced a reality check as his side went winless for the first month of the season. The squad had undergone a massive facelift after finishing ninth out of 10 teams the previous season. 14 players departed in the offseason, including club captain and record-appearance-maker Matt McKay. Fowler oversaw the arrival of 12 new players in their place. Given the turnover it was perhaps inevitable that the Roar's players would require a period of adaptation to their new coach and teammates.
After a four-game spell saw the side pick up two points and score one goal, the Roar earned their first win of the season against league-leading Melbourne City FC in November thanks to Irish striker Roy O'Donavan's hat trick, sealed with an 83rd-minute penalty. While they no doubt hoped that unexpected victory would give them a boost, Fowler's side continued to endure inconsistent form until the turn of the year.
Marking the start of its turnaround with a win against Western Sydney Wanderers on New Year's Day, the Roar have taken 16 points from their last seven matches. Only leaders Sydney FC and third-placed Perth Glory have been in better form lately. Since returning to the back-three system with which he experimented earlier this season, Fowler has seen his side surging up the table. While still struggling somewhat to score goals, the Roar have tightened up impressively at the back and currently boast the third-best defense in the league. Only Perth has kept more clean sheets than the Roar's five, three of which have come in 2020.
Robbie Fowler’s @Robbie9Fowler last 8 matches with Brisbane RoarPlayed
— CoachesNetwork (@Britcoachesnet) February 16, 2020
Fowler was overwhelmingly voted A-League Coach of the Month for January, a mark of his side's progress. The Roar's only loss in the first month of the year came via a narrow 1-0 defeat to leader Sydney. Fowler recently expressed his confidence in his charges and ensured that he never doubted a turnaround was possible.
When it was suggested his team was flying under the radar after the 1-0 victory over Western United, the A-League's newest club, Fowler said: “You mentioned how no one’s mentioned it — we knew. You look at Adelaide and, performance-wise, I know they had a bit of a dip mid-season where they lost a few games but generally their form's been good. And Wellington is rightly getting lots of good plaudits because of the way they’re playing and getting good results. We’re two points behind them — so maybe we’re not a bad team."
That result put the Roar four points clear of Western United in sixth place, good enough for a spot in the A-League Finals at the conclusion of the 27-game regular season. The top of the table is tight, though, and Fowler's men could well finish even higher than their current position if they maintain form. Fourth- and fifth-placed Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix are just two points ahead with 27, while third-placed Perth is also within reach on 29.
In spite of their strong recent form, Fowler refuses to allow his side to become complacent. "The ladder, it is what it is — there's plenty of points and there's plenty of games to go, we know we've just got to keep going, keep plugging along, and we're not guaranteed anything," he said.
The Liverpool legend has overcome a rocky reintegration to life down under to whip his team into shape. The club is looking for home form to help secure its spot in the top six — Brisbane has picked up 13 points from seven home games, compared to its total of 12 from 10 games on the road. Fowler will end his first season as a full-time manager with six home games from the last nine ahead of the Finals stage.