Relentless optimism is what made a team that finished sixth last year into champions. It’s what Owen Coyle brought to the table when he took charge of the club at the start of last season. He believed that Jamshedpur FC” deserves to be competing at the pinnacle of the ISL and nothing less”, which is a daunting assertion given the fact that the team finished eight, which was the worst season in their brief history.
Optimism seems impossible when you can see ATK Mohun Bagan poaching the league’s best and assembling an all-star lineup by throwing their weight and financial might. But Coyle didn’t give a toss about all that and brought his zeal for the game into every department of Jamshedpur FC. Needless to say, it worked beautifully, as it resulted in Jamshedpur FC’s first-ever trophy, with just five years into the club.
Coyle’s optimism was first seen at the recruitment stage, a phase where it makes sense not to be too overly optimistic. Looking at the transfers that Coyle has facilitated at Jamshedpur FC, one can clearly see that he bets on mostly struggling players. It’s common knowledge that it’s mighty rare for careers to be resurrected in Indian football, especially domestic ones. But still, Coyle went through it fearlessly.
His three most used players of the season – Ricky Lallawmawma, Laldinliana Renthlei, TP Rehenesh – were unlikely phoenixes. TP Rehenesh was released by Kerala Blasters a couple of seasons ago. Laldinliana clocked in only 921 minutes in 11 starts prior to his release from Chennaiyin. And Ricky was absent from the entirety of the 2019/20 ISL season when he was with ATK before he was signed up by Jamshedpur.
It’s not just those three that benefitted from Coyle’s tenacity – Boris Singh, Ritwik Das and Ishan Pandita all found their careers re-energized this season. But the biggest punt of them all was definitely Daniel Chima Chukwu. During the games for SC East Bengal, the Nigerian striker scored only twice in 11 games. Both of those scores were made in a single match against Odisha FC, the league’s worst defence. It was only Coyle’s ability to instill belief in his players that gave Chima, a player who was despondent and ready to leave India, with eight goal-involvements (7G, 1A) in eight games, two of which won matches.
Coyle’s optimism trickled on to Jamshedpur’s players on the pitch too. They rescued almost twenty per cent (8/43) of their points this season from draws/loses positions (barring 0-0s). Jamshedpur’s style of play also proved that It isn’t just a numbers game and it made the season quite special.
Possession-based football has become the flavour of choice for the majority of head coaches, due to the distinctly Spanish flavour acquired by the ISL over the last few seasons. It can prove to be a heady mixture if done right, as evidenced by the way Sergio Lobera’s teams made us marvel with the pretty patterns that they weaved.
Coyle did want to indulge in ‘possession-based football’, which came via his own assertion at the start of this season. But he gave his players such creative freedom that he was able to use a direct, fast-paced style that very few teams have been able to deal with. Greg Stewart’s 21 goal involvements (11G, 10A), the very best that the league has ever seen, is a result of that.
Jamshedpur’s victory should be able to re-energize a town that has always been behind the traditional hotbeds of Indian football. It’s also a breath of fresh air for a sporting world that’s been struggling heavily over the last year. This time, the nice guys finish first, and it feels darn good.