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How Owen Coyle masterminded Jamshedpur FC’s ISL League Winners’ Shield triumph?

12:29 PM SGT 9/3/22
Owen Coyle Jamshedpur ISL 2021-22
Coyle has added another feather to his impressive cap already...

Monday turned out to be a very special night for Jamshedpur FC as they lifted the much-coveted Indian Super League (ISL) League Winners’ Shield after a 1-0 win over ATK Mohun Bagan in the final match of the league stage.

It was also a memorable night for the man who led Jamshedpur to the finest hour in their history - Owen Coyle. The 55-year-old manager, in many ways, had pulled off an incredible job.

His team had comprehensively outplayed clubs who had outspent them comfortably.

And it was no aberration or a freak season. Coyle has shown that he had that ability to bring the best out of squads from the moment he came to India. What he did with a Chennaiyin FC side, down in the doldrums at the wrong end of the table six games into the 2019-20 season, is there for everyone to see.

Entrusted with a squad in which he had no say, Coyle pulled a rabbit out of the hat and led the Marina Machans all the way to the ISL final. He moved to Jamshedpur last season and enjoyed a season of comparable normality. Jamshedpur just about missed out on the play-offs and finished sixth.

Cut to the present and one could be tempted to say he had pulled another rabbit out of the hat. But it was no miracle job. The master tactician plotted his way to the top with some astute squad building and managerial decisions.

And Jamshedpur FC have been a very entertaining team to watch while being solid at the back. It might not be the possession-based football that Coyle advocates but he has shown that attacking fluidity is not just about having the ball at all times.

How did Coyle help Jamshedpur win the ISL League Winners’ Shield?

1) Retained the core players from last season

Though Jamshedpur FC failed to qualify for the play-offs last season under Coyle, there were encouraging signs. The team had largely played well and came up short only in crunch matches. There were players who did a stellar job, especially among the foreign contingent. And Coyle decided to keep his trust in them. 

Peter Hartley, the lion-hearted centre-back, was retained. So was the hardworking Alex Lima in midfield. Nerijus Valskis was also kept on along with a host of Indian players like Narender Gahlot, Jitendra Singh, Boris Singh, TP Rehenesh etc. 

These players would go on to play key roles this season, contributing at the right times to propel Jamshedpur to the very top, a possibility nobody even considered when the season began.

2) The signing of Eli Sabia and Greg Stewart

Two key signings that transformed Jamshedpur FC this season have been that of Eli Sabia and Greg Stewart.

Sabia, the tall Brazilian centre-back, was coming off a poor season with Chennaiyin FC. But Coyle knew what Sabia was capable of, having seen his best during his time at Chennaiyin. He saw the opportunity to get in a quality player for decent money and brought him in. That also gave him a chance to play two overseas central defenders in Hartley and Sabia. It is no surprise that Jamshedpur has the best defence this season, with Sabia making 16 appearances. Many clubs did not have the luxury to play two overseas defenders.

It also meant Coyle had to sacrifice an overseas player in midfield or attack. However, he planned to overcome that problem by bringing in a high quality creative midfielder. Someone in the mould of Rafael Crivellaro who was the creative engine for Coyle at Chennaiyin. In came Greg Stewart from Rangers. He might not have been as tall as Crivellaro but he had the same magical left foot, ability to find killer passes and eye for a goal. Stewart’s creative ability meant Coyle could play two Indian wingers and not worry about quality in the final third.

3) The transformation of Indian players

One thing that has stood out in Coyle’s teams in India so far have been the development of Indian players. At Chennaiyin FC, the likes of Edwin Vanspaul, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Laldinliana Renthlei, Vishal Kaith, Jerry Lalrinzuala had all come into their own. Their forms (apart from Laldinliana who followed Coyle to Jamshedpur) had all waned after he left.

At Jamshedpur, he has had the same effect on Indian players. TP Rehenesh has refound his form and mojo, young Jitendra Singh has been praised for his acclaimed displays in defensive midfield while a virtual unknown in Ritwik Das has been a revelation. Mobashir Rahman has become a key player and so has Seimenlen Doungel on the wings. Pronay Halder and others also contributed.

It’s no coincidence. Coyle has time and again insisted that the growth of Indian players is as crucial to a team as signing quality foreigners.

4) A fateful decision to replace Valskis with Daniel Chukwu

Daniel Chima Chukwu, who started the season with East Bengal, was in terrible form for the Red and Golds. In 10 appearances for them, he had managed to score just two goals. But when the January transfer window came about and Valskis decided to leave, Coyle zeroed in on the struggling Nigerian. What initially looked like a desperate move soon turned into a masterstroke.

Seven goals in nine appearances followed for Chukwu and his goals also helped Jamshedpur finish the season strongly. In the nine games Chukwu played for the Men of Steel, they won eight and lost only one.

Interestingly, Valskis after going to Chennaiyin has struggled for form.

5) Putting together a capable supporting act

One aspect that troubled Coyle during his time at Chennaiyin FC was perhaps the strength of the supporting cast. There was a lack of adequate quality among the squad outside the first team and often if the likes of Andre Schembri or Crivellaro were indisposed, Chennaiyin struggled with fluidity.

It was not the case at Jamshedpur this season. Coyle had learnt his lesson well and managed to cover up the gaps. The likes of Jordan Murray, Doungel and Ishan Pandita were brought in to provide that impact from the bench and step up when his first choice players were indisposed.

Murray scored several crucial goals. Pandita saw much more game time from last season at FC Goa while scoring three goals. Even a fringe player like Komal Thatal contributed with a goal.