Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Mueller kick-starts Germany’s post-Flick era with win over France


Steven Gerrard is not the only former Liverpool legend making a splash as a coach in Saudi Arabia’s exciting new football world.

Robbie Fowler the player never bowed to a challenge and was one of the sharpest strikers in Europe. Now, more than a decade after hanging up his boots, the former England, Liverpool and Manchester City forward is showing he has taken that same mentality into management as the coach of First Division Al-Qadsiah.

The 48-year-old has led his new club to three wins and a draw in an undefeated start to the 2023-24 league campaign, and would love nothing more than to join the big boys of the Roshn Saudi League next season.

Fowler, however, is not getting carried away at such an early stage.

“There’s always going to be pressure on you, and you have to accept that,” he said. “The owners (Aramco) would like to get promoted and I also would like that. I want to be successful, of course. From a club point of view, there’s got to be some realism there though. Regardless of where you finished last season and how much money you’ve spent, there’s no guarantee or entitlement to say we’re going to get into the pro league.

“My primary example for that is Chelsea,” said Fowler. “They’ve spent almost a billion pounds on players and they’re probably further away from the top four than they’ve been for years. So, there’s no guarantee if you bring in lots of players that you’re going to be successful. It just doesn’t work like that. But if you have that club ethos in place and a group of players totally committed to the cause then, of course, anything is possible.”

During a playing career that saw him net 163 goals in 379 Premier League appearances between 1993 and 2009, Fowler racked up honors — an FA Cup, two League Cups, a UEFA Cup, and UEFA Super Cup, as well as two PFA Young Player of the Year Awards in 1995 and 1996. Now he is racking up every conceivable coaching qualification he can get his hands on — the most recent coming in the form of an LMA Diploma in Football Management.

Al-Qadsiah is the latest stop in a managerial career that has already taken him from Thailand to Saudi Arabia via Australia and India.

Fowler’s relationship with Al-Qadsiah started with a consultancy role before he was made head coach in June 2023, after going through the same interview process as every other candidate.

A now seven-game unbeaten run, including the opening four league matches, is exactly the start Fowler would have dreamed of — sitting joint top of the table alongside Al-Jabalain and Al-Arabi after picking up 10 points from a possible 12 in the league.

But that does not tell half the story. Fowler took a squad of 27 players to Turkiye on a pre-season tour, yet only two out of that initial group have started in the team’s league games thus far. It is evident Fowler’s team now have an identity, an impressive early-season feat considering the new nucleus of his first 11 only joined the squad two days prior to the start of the campaign.

Meanwhile, the training ground — which still consists of a single pitch and a new state-of-the-art gym — is a far cry from seasons past. Part of Fowler’s consultancy role was trying to produce an environment in which the players could thrive and, thankfully from his point of view, the owners are evidently very understanding of what the players’ needs are.

Fowler’s sole goal is to get the most out of every resource available to him, priding himself on instilling the theme of family culture at clubs he has managed.

“Pre-season is all about getting your squad together and getting your ethos across, but we couldn’t do that here,” Fowler told Arab News. “We had to just get on with it. We’ve effectively had a new team and a new squad, so to implement what we’ve wanted to do in that short space of time and remain unbeaten … Without blowing my trumpet, I think it’s pretty remarkable to be honest.

“I’m all about creating that family environment. If you’ve got that synergy with the staff, then they do that little bit more. It’s not just about the man-management of players; it’s about the staff too and treating them like they’re the best people in the world.”

Al-Qadsiah is the fourth team Fowler has coached fulltime, following stints at Muangthong United, Brisbane Roar, and East Bengal respectively. Both personally and professionally, Fowler has learnt so much from those different cultural experiences.

“In terms of where I’ve been, every country has its different standards and ‘remit’ if you like,” he added. “It all boils down to you as a person, ultimately. If you can understand and respect the values of the country that you’re in, then that’s a huge move in the right direction already.

“From a cultural point of view, you’re learning new stuff every single day. Every player is different and you have to respect prayer times, certainly in Saudi Arabia. At the end of the day it’s all about bringing out the best in every player you have, both on and off the field. Better people translates to better players, and with that the results will follow.”

That has certainly been the case so far for Fowler, whose side’s most recent result was a hard-fought stalemate on the road at Al-Ain in Al-Baha. The early form of Al-Qadsiah, a team that finished 11th last season, has certainly increased expectations around the club.

His quest for success has coincided with him making the ultimate sacrifice — a difficult, but necessary decision — of leaving his family at home in the UK for extended periods of time. Thankfully for Fowler, they are fully supportive of his decisions and understand the journey he is on. What defines success for Fowler, however, is not necessarily simply titles and trophies.

“People think success is just winning trophies, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s making a team better — on and off the field — and getting them prepared for the next level. Me not winning trophies at a club doesn’t mean I haven’t been successful. If someone comes in after me and helps the club improve further, I’ve played my part in helping them on that journey.

“I know I’m on my own journey right now and I’ve had to come overseas to do it,” Fowler said. “But you know what, as much as I love my family and I miss them, this is what I want to do. If you want something that badly then you’ve got to make sacrifices at the end of the day; try different things and get out of your comfort zone. I’ve done that for years now and I’ve genuinely enjoyed it.”



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