By Amlan Chakraborty
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Robbie Fowler does not feel he put his reputation on the line despite taking charge at SC East Bengal just weeks before the start of the Indian Super League and watching his new side lose four of their first five games, the Liverpool great told Reuters.
The Kolkata side were a late addition to the franchise-based ISL, which has supplanted the I-League as India's premier football competition.
The club, celebrating their centenary year in 2020, pulled off something of a coup by bringing in Fowler on a two-year deal in October, though the former England striker had little time to make an impact before the season got underway a month later.
East Bengal had a rough start to the campaign, losing four of their first five matches, but Fowler said he never once felt like his reputation was on the line.
"Not at all," Fowler, who previously managed Australian side Brisbane Roar, told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
"We were given a squad of players which was built for the I-League, there's no two ways about that.
"I know it was tough way to start because people will want you to hit the ground running but we knew straightaway that was never ever going to be the case."
Fowler brought in Nigerian forward Bright Enobakhare to sharpen up his attack and focused on tightening up the defence, and the results have started to come.
East Bengal are unbeaten in seven matches, winning two of those games, to move off the bottom of the table, but Fowler said it was important to look at the club's long-term vision.
"We're not after quick-fixes, we're after getting this club as successful as can be for a long time," he added.
"As the season progresses, we're going to get better. This club is more than capable of growing."
East Bengal are one of the most popular clubs in India and their derby with Mohun Bagan can attract up to 100,000 fans in Kolkata.
Fowler's previous club Brisbane were ordered by FIFA in November to pay him compensation for terminating his contract as head coach without just cause.
He and his assistant Tony Grant went home to England in March when the A-League season was suspended because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Fowler said he and Grant were "twiddling our thumbs" when the East Bengal offer appeared "out of nowhere". He has also hired Terry McPhillips as the set-piece coach, a novelty in Indian soccer.
Fowler was playing at Muangthong United when he was made the head coach of the Thai club in 2011. He said there were some similarities with his latest role in India, a country obsessed with cricket and not even in FIFA's top 100 nations.
India must plan years and years in advance if they are to make any headway on the global stage, he said.
"It's got to start at the grassroots level -- getting the academies right and the environment right for the kids coming into the game," he said of India, once described by former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter as a "sleeping giant" of football.
"It's not a quick-fix, but it needs to happen pretty quick, for the future generation of the Indian footballers to grow."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)