It was always going to be an incredibly difficult debut Indian Super League (ISL) campaign for SC East Bengal. They finished assembling their squad long after the other teams had started their pre-season and as a result, had no choice but to treat the first few matches as practice games. An unbalanced, ageing squad was another issue and it will obviously take time for Robbie Fowler and his coaching staff to impose their philosophy on the players, something that is visibly under way.
However, what has not helped so far is the Liverpool legend’s constant moaning about the poor standard of refereeing. After last night’s draw against FC Goa, a match that they maybe should have won based on their second-half performance, Fowler was once again up in arms against the referees. “Every time their players went near our players, he (the referee) was getting conned. I’m not sure if it’s an anti-English or anti-East Bengal thing, but we get no help whatsoever,” Asianet News quoted him saying after the match in which his side missed a second-minute penalty, squandered a number of chances to go ahead and were playing against 10 men for much of the second half.
Fowler has time and again made it clear that he feels his side are being targeted by referees, when in fact, at least three other sides have complained about poor refereeing. Bad decisions have been a consistent feature for most part of this season and it might just be slightly self-indulgent to attribute that to ‘anti-English’ness on the referees’ part. The truth is, he knows that his side is missing out on valuable points and is trying to deflect pressure off them and towards the officials. The amount of gesticulating that the East Bengal dugout revels in during matches also points towards that.
If you’re wondering where you’ve come across this ‘us against the world’ sentiment before, you might want to look back at several of Jose Mourinho’s press conferences during his second stint with Chelsea and at Manchester United. However, the legendary Portuguese manager is a serial winner who, despite dividing opinions, has always been someone who has tried to protect his players from the media. Fowler on the other hand has already ruffled feathers with some of his comments on the quality of Indian players and their lack of tactical understanding. One can understand that those words might have been misconstrued by the media, but fact remains that he is yet to convince fans through his team’s performances on the pitch.
This is not to say that he isn’t a good coach. This also isn’t a scathing indictment of the way he manages different aspects of coaching. This is simply to point out that while the refereeing has been atrocious on multiple occasions, that isn’t to be blamed for Debjit Majumder having to make the most number of saves (49) or the team registering a paltry 133 shots at goal in 14 matches. Maybe it's time to focus on the latter two aspects and leave the officiating referees out of every pre or post-match debate.