The showdown will see two Englishmen with contrasting footballing styles lock horns as they lead their respective sides in the city of Tatanagar.
It was December of 2013 when Steve Coppell was the Technical Director of Football at Crawley Town. After a run of seven games without any win, manager Ritchie Barker’s contract was terminated with immediate effect. In the aftermath of that sacking, Coppell would leave his position too. A certain John Gregory would come in to take the place of Barker and he would last one year in the job before stepping down due to health problems.
Their worlds might not really have collided back then at Crawley Town but it will on Thursday when Coppell’s Jamshedpur take on Gregory’s Chennaiyin FC.
A winger back in the day, Coppell’s managerial experience has included stints with Crystal Palace, Manchester City, Reading and Brentford amongst others. The 62-year-old is no stranger to Indian football having led the Kerala Blasters to a runners-up finish in the previous edition of the ISL.
His greatest managerial achievement till date has perhaps come at Crystal Palace with whom he enjoyed four different spells as head coach between 1984 and 2000. In his time there, Coppell led the London club to a successful promotion to the top-flight in 1989 before leading them to the finals of the FA Cup where they lost to Manchester United in a replay. The following season, Palace would finish third in the top-division; their highest ever finish till date.
It was no surprise then when the Liverpool-born man was selected as the manager for Palace’s Centenary XI.
On the other hand, Gregory’s crowning moment as a manager came when he took over the reins of a struggling Aston Villa, a club he had enjoyed a successful stint as a goal-scoring midfielder between 1977 and 1979. Villa were languishing in the bottom half of the table when Gregory took over in February 1998 and the Englishman would lead the side to nine victories in their final 11 league matches to secure a seventh spot and a UEFA Cup qualification.
The English football school of thought is very much prevalent in both coaches’ philosophies but while one places emphasis on not making any mistakes, the other looks to seize upon any slight errors by the opposition.
Coaching one of the two new entrants in the league, Coppell’s side’s displays so far for a town known as the Steel City of India are aptly fitting.
It is remarkable to think that Jamshedpur’s six matches so far in the league have seen only three goals scored in total, two for and one against. It is even more remarkable to think that Coppell’s side could be just a point behind the table-toppers with a game in hand if they win on Thursday.
Jamshedpur’s campaign so far can be described as a game of small margins and it is therefore, no surprise to know that Coppell is armed with a degree in Economics. Three goalless draws coupled with two 1-0 wins have meant Jamshedpur have picked up nine points despite scoring only two goals. The fact that they have conceded just once in the league, in their solitary defeat to FC Pune City, is the rock that Coppell’s foundations for the side have been laid on.
Gregory’s Chennaiyin meanwhile started their campaign on a dismal note with a home loss against FC Goa but then came roaring back with three consecutive victories to grab eyeballs in the league. They have scored 12 goals in contrast to Jamshedpur’s two but have shipped in eight at the back.
Quick to pounce on any errors by the opposition, the hallmark of Gregory’s side this season has been their penchant for late goals. The Chennai-based outfit have struck late in their matches against FC Goa, Bengaluru FC, FC Pune City and ATK. Gregory has lined his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation primarily, similar to Coppell. However, while Jamshedpur have been more defensively rounded, Chennaiyin have adopted a more balanced approach in both attack and defence.
His side has shown they can take the game to the opposition when needed to as shown by the late goals. If both teams were boxers, Coppell’s Jamshedpur will probably go the distance despite taking several body blows while Gregory’s Chennaiyin look well capable of delivering a timely knock-out punch in times of distress.
As such, it will be a clash of two Englishmen with very much contrasting footballing styles when December 28 arrives at the JRD Tata Sports Complex.