The curtains came down on one of the last bastions of football standing in 2020 this week. Before the A-League closes its doors for the foreseeable future, the Newcastle Jets and Melbourne City FC at least provided a treat for the soon to be stifled senses, with Steven Ugarkovic stepping up with a sizzler for the Jets to snatch a 2-1 win.
The Football Federation Australia (FFA) are scheduled to finally follow the lead of major leagues around the world and announce the postponement of the season, which has been played behind closed doors for the past several weeks.
The season will go on hiatus with last year’s champions and league runners-up Sydney FC perched prettily on top of the table.
Impressively, Brisbane Roar find themselves in fourth, right in the mix for a good strong solid finals qualification spot in what is turning out to be a pleasantly surprising debut season for their head coach.
Ahead of their 15th A-league season, the Roar turned to an unlikely option to fill their hotseat. The 2018/19 season saw them finish just one place off rock bottom of the table, with just four wins in the 27-game season, just one more than tenth-place Central Coast Mariners.
Caretaker manager, Welshman Darren Davies, who guided the Roar’s previous campaign has now reverted back to an assistant role.
Into the dugout stepped one Robbie Fowler. The Liverpool F.C legend taking up only his second managerial position and the first as his sole role, having helmed Thai outfit Muangthong United alongside his last year as a professional player (2011/12).
Fowler reportedly beat out around 150 candidates for the position at The Roar, the oldest club in the A-League, becoming the permanent successor to John Aloisi who departed the club in December 2018.
44-year-old Fowler, the English Premier League’s seventh-highest goalscorer, and Liverpool’s third top marksmen of all time, was announced as the new Roar gaffer before last season’s conclusion. It was in April 2019, a month before their campaign finally fizzled out, that Brisbane Roar turned to Fowler to hopefully revitalise the team. Fowler had played in the A-League at the Queensland Fury and Perth Glory in the twilight years of his playing career.
“There’s not going to be any stone left unturned,” Fowler said upon his unveiling as the Brisbane boss. “I’m going to do everything right. There’s going to be plenty of hours on the training pitch to bring the club and the team up to speed. Massively looking forward to it.”
Fowler found himself charged with bringing back some tangible success to the east-coast outfit, something that has eluded in recent seasons. Their success in the early 2010s, saw the Roar achieve three Champions titles in the space of four years, with forward Besart Berisha - the A-League’s all-time leading goalscorer - in his pomp.
Following his arrival, Fowler in turn recruited another familiar face known around Merseyside, former Everton player Tony Grant as his wing-man in his further adventures in Oz. A positive pre-season however yielded into an auspicious start to the season, with Fowler having to wait until his fifth game for his first competitive victory. Only one more would be forthcoming in the entirety of Roar’s first ten matches.
As 2019 concluded, Brisbane Roar sat joint-last with the Jets and, following a 1-1 had to dispel detractors and highlight what he believed to be progress.
"For what we are now from what we were last year, Brisbane Roar as a side, I think it's chalk and cheese,” Fowler said at the time, “We look as though we're a handful, we look as though we can give all the teams a game. In terms of possession. We know the most important stat is the scoreline but we know we're close.
"Of course it's frustrating because we want to win the game, we will win games."
Somewhat ironically for a team playing under a man universally regarded for his prolificacy in front of the net, goals have been hard to come by. By the end of December, the Roar were the only team in the A-League yet to score a first-half goal.
The fire and desire from their new gaffer was there, not just with the perpetual inclusion of that particular pronoun, but evidenced by his refusal to shake the hand of his counterpart Mark Rudan after feeling slighted by the performance of, and defeat to, Western United.
Enter 2020 and Fowler has been indeed proven right: the wins have indeed been forthcoming.
The new year began with a win over Western Sydney Wanderers, triggering a run of five victories in seven games and since then the Roar have suffered just two defeats across a run of 12 games.
Before the unfortunate postponement to the 2019/20 A-League season, Fowler had helped guide the Roar to three consecutive wins.
In all but one of their league wins in 2020 they have won by just a single goal margin, demonstrating a sense of pragmatism, grit, and ruthlessness for those all-important three points to solidify their lofty position.
His managerial CV may not have been the most convincing, but if Brisbane Roar continue to flourish upon resumption - whenever that may be - then faith in the fledgling Fowler will truly have been restored.