Ahead of SC East Bengal’s final group stage match in this season’s Indian Super League (ISL) against Odisha FC, Robbie Fowler appeared to be slightly defensive about his team’s showing in their debut campaign. Amongst other things, Goal quoted him questioning the expectation levels surrounding the club, something that he seemingly hasn’t quite been able to wrap his head around. He said, “It's our expectation levels - I don't know why they were as high as they were because if you look at the last 10-15 years in the I-League, the club hasn't won the league. They've always tried to progress and get better.”
The above statement is a clear indication that Fowler and his coaching staff haven’t been able to grasp the importance that a club like East Bengal holds in the spectrum of Indian football. That isn’t entirely his fault though, it is up to the club management to ensure that representatives of a club that has a stature as huge as East Bengal’s understand fan expectations and the genesis of that. However, although one can give him the benefit of doubt in terms of the limited time that he had in assembling the squad and the type of players that he had to play with, what leaves a bitter taste in the mouth is the clueless nature of the above statement which is definitely not befitting of a man of his intelligence.
Firstly, he used to play for Liverpool, a club that went 30 years without winning the English premiership. Surely he would agree that despite their three decade-long domestic misfortune, the expectations surrounding the side never really dipped. They were always expected to fight for the title even when it was quite obvious that the likes of Manchester United and then Arsenal and Chelsea had stolen a march on them. Throughout the tenures of Graeme Souness, Gerard Houllier, Roy Hodgson, Brendan Rodgers to now Jurgen Klopp, the Reds continued to be a club that was widely followed and well respected simply because the name Liverpool Football Club meant something.
Secondly, even though the Red and Golds have faltered during important junctures in past seasons, they have never quite capitulated and looked so out of place while playing in a competition as they have this season. The club made a record eight appearances in the AFC Cup between 2004 and 2015, reaching as far as the semifinals in 2013. Furthermore, they won the Calcutta Football League title for eight consecutive seasons between 2010 and 2017. As far as the I-League is concerned, since 2010 they have finished 2nd five times, 3rd thrice and 4th twice, making Robbie Fowler’s statement seem all the more ludicrous.
Which brings us back to the comment that has inadvertently drawn flak from multiple quarters. Surely someone who is still referred to as the God of Anfield would very well understand exactly why East Bengal are expected to deliver every time they walk out on to the pitch. Maybe experiencing an actual derby at the iconic Salt Lake stadium next season might change his perspective on the matter. Maybe that will enable him to work towards mending the rift between him and the fans that some of his statements have created. But before that, maybe he needs to save himself from his own self-destructive streak which invariably causes him to make some of the most unnecessary statements in the most inopportune moments.