There is, perhaps, no better match for Robbie Fowler to begin his stint in India than the Indian Super League’s first-ever Kolkata derby. The man is, after all, the king of derbies.
His playing record is full of memorable derby moments. From scoring the winner in his very first Merseyside derby (Liverpool vs Everton), finding the net multiple times in the Manchester derby while playing for Manchester City, to even managing to create a goal in the Pennines derby — Manchester United versus Leeds United.
Now he gets to experience a fixture that is as old and as intense as any of the others he has experienced so far in the world.
The difference is, this time though, the 45-year-old will be in the dugout, in his new job as the coach for ISL debutantes SC East Bengal.
There are few people more equipped to handle the heat of a derby than the man himself.
“The derbies are huge games,” explained Fowler. “They mean a lot to the fans and of course, they mean a lot to the players. But the important thing is you got to go into them and try to use your head. You got to try and be sensible.
“In these types of games, the players can’t get carried away. You will dive into tackles, you will get too enthusiastic. So in this case, let’s try and play sensibly,” he added.
Fowler believes this derby is significant, not only because of the momentum such games can generate but also because it’s his and his club’s debut in the ISL. And he knows the importance of getting off to a winning start.
“It’s a massive game not because we are playing ATK Mohun Bagan, it’s important to us because it’s our first game as a team,” he said.
“It’s a big game. It’s huge for the fans. It’s probably one of the biggest games in India. But it’s also a chance for us to go out there and show everyone what type of team we are. The type of game where we can show our identity and what we are working on, on the training pitch,” he added.
Fowler feels a late start to pre-season means his team will be at a disadvantage. But he also says that his team won’t be short on motivation and work ethic.
“It’s an incredibly tough game for us to start. We are massively behind all the teams in terms of preparations. Massively behind in terms of playing games. ATKMB have played a game and we haven’t, so we are coming into the season relatively new.
“No one has a clue how we are going to play, what type of team we are. It’s up to us now to go out there and set a bit of a marker. We can do that. Because we got a great work ethic, a great team spirit.
“The players’’ attitudes are absolutely first class. We can’t wait to get started. It’s been a long time. We have done all the work. We have come so far and we are ready.”
And while there will be no fans at the stadium to cheer his team on, Fowler says that he can feel their support even from afar.
“We know how well we are supported. We know the fans can’t be there. Certainly not in person. But I have no doubt that in spirit, they are going to be there 120 per cent with us. We can feel the support and love.
“We as a staff and as a team are very grateful for the support and I hope that will continue.
“There will be a day when supporters are back in and until that day comes, we will quietly go by what we need to do. We will be playing not only for the great shirt that we wear but also for the fans who are instrumental in a lot of things this club does.”
Ask Fowler what his favourite derby moment is and he answers that there are too many of those to single one out. If things go well on Friday, then he will add one more to that long list.