'God' should have no Fury
The idea of ex-Liverpool star Robbie Fowler joining the North Queensland Fury in the Hyundai A-League has 'disaster' written all over it.
The Fury want the former England striker to be their marquee player when the Townsville-based franchise is added to the competition - along with Gold Coast United - for the 2009-2010 season, starting in August.
Fowler spent a few days in far north Queensland last week, visiting nearby Dunk Island in the Great Barrier Reef and looking at schools and houses for his wife and four children.
Coming from a brutal English winter, it must have been extremely inviting. Fowler was very impressed with the Fury's set-up, including their home stadium and training facilities, and was headed back to the UK to give his missus a glowing account of the whole experience.
An all-expenses paid sightseeing junket is one thing. Beep tests in tropical heat and flying hours across the country to play Perth Glory in a dead rubber is another.
The novelty will wear out very quickly for the man once known by the Anfield faithful as 'God'. Around six weeks in, Fowler will look around provincial Townsville at impatient, Rugby League-raised fans, take stock of his aching body and say to himself: 'What on earth am I doing here?'
Jilted by Korea-bound Jade North at the altar, the Fury have gone from one extreme to another as they look for their all-important marquee player.
27-year-old North, a hard-working central defender capped 23 times by Australia, would have been a solid choice, given his leadership qualities and indigenous roots in a fledgling market.
But Fowler? 34 years old in April, many years past his prime and hobbled by recent injuries make him hardly the perfect choice for a club based in one of the hottest and most humid parts of Australia.
Fury management, including chairman Don Matheson and coach Ian Ferguson, had made clear their intention to use the uncomfortable conditions to their advantage by moulding a youngish, super-fit side who could play a fast-paced, pressing style.
Last October, I spoke by telephone to Ferguson and he told me: "With the heat factor, I don't want 34 or 35 year olds. 32 would probably be the oldest player I'd look at."
Why the change of heart now?
Of course, when the fourth highest scorer in the history of the English Premier League comes along you sit up and take notice. But, then again, Brian Deane got the first ever goal in the premiership and we saw what a flop he was with Perth Glory. It is 2009, not 1999.
In the short term, Fowler could attract significant publicity for North Queensland who have been trailing a distant second to fellow new boys Gold Coast - shameless show-boaters - in the hype stakes. And for the first month, injury permitting, he could guarantee bums on seats at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
But after that, the fans could turn on him, just as Sydney FC supporters did when they ran out of patience with fading World Cup hero John Aloisi.
The A-League is littered with stories of big name players in their 30s whose bodies - and wills - have simply not been able to stand up to a championship that is physically demanding and full of hungry youngsters looking to cut them down a peg or two.
In addition to foreign imports Juninho, Benito Carbone and Mario Jardel, many Australian-born stars have also flopped in what was supposed to be their happy homecoming. Injury-prone Paul Agostino and Hayden Foxe barely got onto the field for their respective clubs and while Paul Okon and Tony Popovic were able to contribute more, their bodies gave way sooner than expected.
A combination of bad luck and a late start has hurt the Fury's recruitment drive to see them lag behind the Gold Coast as they assemble their squad. That, along with their relative geographical isolation (having to travel more than most other clubs) means that North Queensland will do well to finish outside the bottom two in their inaugural season. Hardly the kind of scenario that Fowler will enjoy walking into.
Gold Coast have hit the jackpot with the recruitment as marquee player of Socceroo Jason Culina from PSV Eindhoven. Still only 28, Culina played in the UEFA Champions League this season and was among Australia's 2006 World Cup heroes. One of his country's fittest midfielders, the outstanding utility will be able to adapt his game to suit his new club.
In the long run, North Queensland will be better off if Fowler turns them down. There's talk that 'Plan B' for the Fury will be to lure Socceroo Scott Chipperfield back to Australia from Swiss club, FC Basel. Although 'Chippers' is only eight months younger than Fowler, he would prove much better long-term value with a versatility to match Culina.
One can understand the Fury's interest in Fowler. By all means he should come back to North Queensland with his wife and four kids. But instead of donning the number 9 for the Fury, it should be shirts off, a pair of Union Jack shorts and an umbrella drink or two on Dunk Island as he reflects on his great career.
• Australian-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an international broadcaster and corporate host. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.