The news that Robbie Fowler may be re-signing with Perth Glory for season 2011/12 was met with little enthusiasm by many fans of the club, and understandably so.
Robbie Fowler is an exceptionally amenable man, he is also a big name in football terms as confirmed by Deputy Chairman of the club Lui Giuliani when he stated that the signing of Fowler had seen his wages offset by the number of memberships the club had sold, believed to be an extra 2000.
Despite some sections of the media talking up his performances and saying he has been an outstanding asset to the club on the pitch, this sadly is not true. He may be the club’s top scorer currently with 9 goals, but when you analyse this it is not as impressive as it would appear; five have come in two games, three have been penalties and one in open play was a penalty that was saved and he tapped in the rebound. These nine goals have come in 23 games.
The sad fact is there should have been more. His legs no longer give him the yard needed inside the penalty area to get ahead of a defender and poach a goal. His awareness is still outstanding as is his vision. His set pieces have been disappointing. In short you have to ask as a marquee player has he had a major influence on the team and their results, and the answer has to be, ‘no.’ Has he influenced those players around him? He probably has. The saddest thing about the signing of Robbie Fowler is he has not been utilised properly. He has not been rested for some games to maximise the impact his experience can give. He was not signed with a role within a team structure in mind, or if he was then the players around him weren’t signed to dovetail with his game. There was not strategy that appears clear to those outside of the club. Surely fans would have preferred to see Fowler play on the last man harrying the defence for an hour and be replaced than drifting in and out of the game wandering around up front for 90 minutes?
To re-sign Fowler is madness. The club has to start setting up a structure that sees local players developed into A League players and the money that he will cost for another season would be better spent on setting up that structure.
But is this not an indictment on Football here in Western Australia? The fans are again being sold short, to sign Fowler again is to again try and milk the marketing possibilities, except sadly many of those who signed up at the start of the season for Memberships will not sign up again if the same carrot is dangled in front of them.
The FFA need Perth Glory to be strong, as it makes for a better league and it helps with the funds coming through the gate. Football in WA needs Perth Glory to be strong as it has a direct impact on the local game.
It is a grave concern that according to the Football West Annual reports of the past three years the participation levels are steadily decreasing: 2008 -33,512, 2009 – 33,393, 2010 – 32,004. (Apparently some country areas have for some reason not been included in these figures).
So the decline in football in general is in line with the Perth Glory’s decline. The Hyundai A league commenced in 2005 and Perth Glory failed to live up to past expectations.
Football West was formed in 2004 and when all of the various football bodies came under the one banner it was estimated that there were around 28,000 registered players within the then, four associations. This again did not include the country players. So in 2004 it was estimated that there were 33000 players now under the Football West umbrella.
So in six years what growth have we seen? The state population has grown by approximately 10% according to Australian Bureau of Statistics, which should translate into a growth within the game, especially when for a large number of immigrants football is their game of choice. In fact based on the population growth we should have a figure of around 36,000. What makes these figures even more distressing is that we have witnessed a decline despite Australia qualifying for two world cups, and the interest in the game that that automatically creates.
Some people may say that the two are not linked, but sadly they are very strongly linked. Perth Glory since the inception of the Hyundai A League has failed to match the glory of former years in the NSL. It was always going to be hard, as the NSL in the last few seasons was a very poor competition, and Perth Glory were one of only two full time teams. The main problem has been one of structure within the game; from the Glory down to grass roots, there was no pathway. The NTC (National Training Centre)and the Perth Glory Youth team have now given that pathway, yet the club see the Youth league as a hindrance rather than a benefit. We accept that the structure of this tournament is not perfect but it has the potential to be better and is essential in the games development.
If run properly the youth team can be an immense asset to the club, to which Gold Coast United who sit top of the National Youth League are testimony. Seven of their youth team train on a regular basis with the first team. Several drive one hour to training and another hour back from the Gold Coast to Brisbane for each training session. They receive no extra payment, and don’t expect one, one of these players said ‘if you want to make it you have to make sacrifices.’ Not only is that a great attitude, but the coaching staff realise that it is a ruthless game, and if they do not believe that you have the ability to play in the first team at the age of 20 they cut you loose.
Sadly professional sport is like that, if you are not up to it then you must be moved on. Perth Glory has sadly signed young players on two year deals but has not helped them become better players. If you are not going to invest the time in developing them, then don’t give them two year deals.
Perth Glory’s future lies in the main with signing local players, and developing local players, and blending them with players from either interstate or overseas who will aid that development and will have an influence on the pitch and off it. Any player signed outside of Western Australia must bring something special to the team, signing journeymen players is regressive. Football West has the structures in place, and we are seeing the benefits with the youth and institute teams performing superbly at national level, and Western Australian boys and girls being selected in national squads. It is not perfect but it is definitely on the right track. This success needs to be broadcast as it is at the bottom end of the game we need participation, it is here we can grow the game.
At the same time these young players need heroes, and with the English Premier League in their living rooms they will no longer be convinced that a 36 year old is a star attraction when his legs are no longer carrying him like they used to. So they don’t support their local club, and sadly some have no desire to play for it. They need local heroes, boys who have come up the ranks that make them believe it is possible for them to follow that path to the top.
That is why the Glory crowd figures and Football West’s participation are intrinsically linked, and that is why re-signing Robbie Fowler will not be good for either organisation, and it is also why the announcement has been met with so little enthusiasm by those who know football.