Robbie Fowler: If Liverpool can have a throw-in coach, why can't SC East Bengal have a set-piece coach?

Robbie Fowler is keen to form a possession-based team at SC East Bengal, but is also adamant on not holding on to possession just for the sake of it.

SC East Bengal coach Robbie Fowler wants a team that keeps the ball and probes the opposition defence and is defensively rock solid. (File Photo)   -  Getty Images

SC East Bengal’s arrival in the Indian Super League (ISL) has turned up the excitement quotient in the league. The historic Kolkata club has made heads turn by signing some top foreign players to bolster its chances this term, especially considering it will have the shortest pre-season among the 11 clubs.  At the helm of the club’s affairs is a man who has seen the highest of highs in global football – former Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler. Embarking on his managerial career’s biggest challenge, Fowler is keen to make a mark in the ISL and form his unique style of play – a combination of the gegenpress and tiki-taka.

Excerpts from an exclusive interaction with Sportstar:

Q: The football world is divided over the two most popular styles of play currently – Jurgen Klopp’s Gegenpress at Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s possession-based tiki-taka at Manchester City. What style of play would you adopt at SC East Bengal, considering the team you have at your disposal?

We want to be a possession-based team, but not have possession just for the sake of it. I think this is probably where a lot of people get perplexed in terms of how you say you want to play or how you are a long-ball team. In football, it doesn't matter if the right pass is from five yards or 50 yards out.

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We want to be a team that keeps the ball and probes the opposition defence and is defensively rock solid. I think we fit into every mold. Formations and tactics are what they are, but if you work hard as a team, then you can apply those tactics even better.

Q: It’s very interesting to note that the club has hired former Blackpool manager Terry McPhillips as a set-piece coach in, a concept that is unheard of Indian football. Could you shed some light on that?

Maybe it is a little bit of a pioneer. But look at Liverpool last year – they had a throw-in coach. Why can't we have one? We've got someone who can benefit us from a defensive point of view and a tactical point of view in terms of set-pieces whether its corners, free kicks or throw-ins.

Football is all about tactics. It’s about what little bit of advantage you can use against the opposition. I keep saying it, we need to use everything in our power to try and gain little advantages and if this is a little advantage, then, of course, we'll use it.

Q: You’ve been a part of many a rivalry during your playing days. Now you walk into Indian football’s biggest rivalry – between the two Kolkata giants. What are your thoughts on being at the centre of it all, albeit without the fans?

Derbies are derbies and it is a case of trying to better the opposition. But also, you've got to play with your head and can’t be just playing with your heart all the time because there'll be 11 red cards if that was the case. We know what the derby means and we know what we need to do. 

There's going to be millions and millions of people supporting us when we're playing and it's up to us, as not only participants in the game but also lovers of football, to try and give that little bit of a bit of spirit back to the fans because we all could do with a little bit at this day and age.

Q: You’ve made some very interesting foreign signings – a couple in each position sparing the goalkeeper. Can you tell me what went into your player recruitment?

It's not the same for everyone, but I think you need to build a spine in a team. If you have a good spine then everything else can branch from it - that's my philosophy. I think the important players are not only the leaders on the pitch but are those who can still develop and grow and bring out the best of the Indian players that we've got here. Fundamentally, that's what football is all about.

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If you've got the individuals who have a great work ethic and an idea on how the best team should work, then that’s going to benefit you. My aim is to try and be strong and be competitive. And if you're building a good spine of a team then there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Q: You’ve got six quality foreigners on board so far. Will they form the spine of your team?

Well, of course, you bring them in because they're excellent players. But the opportunity for other players to get in the team is there. If you're performing week in week out, even day in day out I should say on the training pitch, and you want that chance, then you will get the chance. But let's be honest, the foreign players who are brought in have all played to an unbelievably good standard. And they can help and benefit everyone within this environment here.

Q: Whose inputs did you draw upon to pick the Indian players in your squad?

We are essentially a new team coming. When I say a new team, I mean a new team in the ISL. The ambition of the club is still what it is, it's still towards growth. We have Renedy Singh (Fowler's assistant coach) with us and I think his status in the game over here is I think is unquestionable. 

Obviously, I was relying on him a lot with the local Indian players. So when he advises me, of course, I'm going to listen to him because he's been on the ground as per see. I think primarily when you are building a team, when you are bringing in the Indian local players, you need a little bit of help and I’ve had that not only from Renedy, but from all other members of the squad as well.

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