Life in the Indian Super League (ISL) has been sort of strange for Jamshedpur FC in the three seasons since their inception in 2017.
The Tata Steel-owned club has a dedicated fan following, extremely good facilities and managed to bring in very good overseas players and accomplished coaches. However, they remain the only side in the 10-team competition to never have reached the play-offs.
And it is not like they have not threatened to do so. In each of the three seasons, Jamshedpur have seen themselves miss out narrowly on the top-four. A lot of it is down to a combination of factors including a medley of coaches, none of whom have stayed at the club for more than a season.
Now, having managed to secure a coach who arguably was one of best in the ISL last year despite coming in midway through the season, Jamshedpur will be finally hoping to break that jinx.
It was Steve Coppell who was entrusted with the job in their first season. Coppell was fresh off a run to the final with Kerala Blasters and managed to turn Jamshedpur into a very tough outfit. Coppell, known for his pragmatic approach, took a while to get the squad to churn out results. However, they managed to put together a good run of results towards the business end of the league.
If not for a loss to FC Goa in the final group stage match, where a brainfade from Subrata Paul and his subsequent sending off cost them dearly, Jamshedpur would have reached the play-off in their very first season.
Jamshedpur opted to undertake a change in philosophy after that season, bringing in Spanish coach Cesar Ferrando. With the Spanish revolution, came a big name in Tim Cahill along with influential midfielders like Mario Arques and Sergio Cidoncha.
Much was expected of the team and they started the season well, only to lose momentum and form midway, thanks to . Once again, they finished fifth on the table, two points off the play-off spots.
It was a similar case in the 2019-20 season as well. Jamshedpur had a partnership with Atletico Madrid for their junior team. But they did have a technical director in Julian Villar Aragon from Atletico. On paper there was no formal tie-up for the senior team but through that network, in came a young, exciting striker Sergio Castel. Cesar Ferrando was replaced by his compatriot Antonio Iriondo. Once again, Jamshedpur started brightly and looked favourites for a place in the play-offs.
But injuries to key players including Castel and a lack of quality among their Indian contingent saw them lose their way and finish a lowly eighth.
Now the mantle has been passed to Owen Coyle. The Scotland-born coach’s arrival will most definitely be greeted with a sense of excitement, for such was the turnaround he impacted at Chennaiyin FC last season.
He turned a rigid team that lacked confidence and invention in attack into one of the most feared attacks in the league in a very short span. When Coyle came in, Chennaiyin FC had scored just four goals in six matches and were wallowing at the wrong end of the table.
But when the group stage ended, Coyle’s side had scored 26 goals in the 12 games they played under him. From a hopeless position, he managed to turn the mood completely around the club and sealed a play-off spot with a match to spare. Then he went on to knock the league-stage toppers FC Goa out in a two-legged play-offs where they pumped six goals past them.
Of course, a fitting climax eluded them as a compact ATK team did just about enough to win the title in the final.
The 54-year-old’s adventurous approach to football is very different to what people identify with managers from the United Kingdom and Ireland. However, it is always how he has played football. Even his Wigan, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers sides were known to play positive football.
In many ways, Coyle’s Chennaiyin FC played with more verve and imagination in attack than many other coaches from regions famous for attacking football managed to display. And he did it with a squad in which he had absolutely no say.
Not one player in that Chennaiyin squad was brought in by him, not even during the winter transfer window. Coyle managed to bring out the very best with the hand he was dealt with.
Numerous Indian players also had stellar campaigns, re-inventing their game and playing with confidence under Coyle. Jerry Lalrinzuala found his mojo at left-back again, thriving in his role after stalling a bit last season. Edwin Vanspaul was an absolute revelation, be it at right-back or as a holding midfielder. Anirudh Thapa proved what a precocious talent he is, running the midfield with aplomb for Coyle, to name a few.
Coyle obviously has an eye for detail and trusts Indian players to perform, at key positions. He has made it clear more than often that improving the local players is a priority for him. In fact, he is one of the very few coaches who played an all-Indian midfield last season.
Jamshedpur do have an exciting bunch of youngsters in Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Aniket Jadhav, Mobashir Rahman and Sandip Mandi in their roster. These players can look forward to playing under Coyle.
It is this committed approach that Jamshedpur FC can expect from the former Irish international. Of course, there will be higher expectations from him, given that he will have a big say in choosing his squad this time around.
Is he the right man to do the job at Jamshedpur? Only time will tell. But Coyle’s signature is an excellent start for the club for the upcoming season.