Of grit, fight, and a bit of grace, Owen Coyle's Jamshedpur FC find their own recipe of success

Picture this: Jamshedpur FC find themselves engrossed in a titanic tussle against a fierce rival in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). This game has massive implications for the season and a victory for either side would propel them into the top four. A defeat or a stalemate, though, would leave their hopes hanging by the proverbial thread.

The match begins with Jamshedpur FC buzzing all across the pitch. They hustle, harry and harass their opponents into mistakes and fashion a few goal-scoring opportunities for themselves. Nothing, however, translates into a tangible return.

The breathless nature of the fixture means that both outfits begin feeling the pinch as the contest inches towards its conclusion. Not only are they fervently rummaging for a winning solution, they are also trying to battle fatigue and quite simply, exhaustion after another end-to-end encounter.

More than a few opposition players look up to the skies, almost pleading for the almighty to bring the game to an end. Some others have their hands on their knees and are trying to suck in every ounce of oxygen present in the atmosphere.

As they gaze towards the other half of the pitch, though, they get treated to an astonishing image – an image of the Jamshedpur FC players wanting more. They aren’t content with just a draw. They want a victory and for that to materialize, they are willing to run themselves into the ground.

At first, the opposition, not without reason, treats it as a mirage. After all, no team can withstand such jadedness and still be up for the fight. This game, by the way, is being played in India, meaning that humidity and heat is also a very significant factor.

To their surprise and to the delight of the Jamshedpur FC faithful, however, this isn’t an optical illusion. The Men of Steel are actually willing to go that extra yard, make that extra tackle, create that extra yard of space and indulge in that extra defensive action – just to nudge ahead of their opponents in their pursuit of the top four.

And then, almost with a sense of inevitably, Jamshedpur FC’s perseverance pays off. They scrap, scrap a bit more, scrap till the cows come home and ultimately, scrap their way to victory.

The winning goal isn’t very aesthetically pleasing. It isn’t a 25-yard curling shot that flies into the top corner, nor is it a mazy dribbling run that leaves 5 defenders in its wake before nestling into the bottom corner. But it is a goal that is borne out of sheer graft, effort and above all, will. It is, in simpler words, a goal that is emblematic of everything Jamshedpur FC do on a football pitch.

For large parts of the 2021-22 Hero ISL campaign, the Men of Steel haven’t hogged a lot of possession. On the contrary, they have allowed teams to enjoy more of the ball because it plays into their hands.

Owen Coyle, who distinguished himself at Chennaiyin FC in 2019-20, has continued in a similar vein and has built his team to soak up pressure and capitalize on the counter-attack, meaning that Jamshedpur FC, despite what the stats suggest, are never really out of any encounter.

To add context, the Men of Steel have the lowest tally of passes this season, having only stitched together 3313 passes across 11 games. Their tackle tally isn’t very inspiring either, with them having contributed only 325 throughout the term (the lowest among all Hero ISL outfits). However, they have the highest shots per game ratio (15.45), hinting that they are creating enough scoring chances to surge ahead of the opposition.

Prima facie, it might seem paradoxical that Jamshedpur FC have such a low tackle tally, considering their work rate has long been lauded. On closer introspection, though, it becomes clear that the Men of Steel are quite smart.

They don’t go biting into challenges unless it is absolutely necessary. They wait for their moments to pounce and whenever there is an opening to mount a counter-attack, they tackle, win the ball back and immediately put the opposition under pressure. 147 fouls in 11 games (third-least in the Hero ISL) drives that point home too.

The most refreshing aspect, though, is that Jamshedpur FC have established a unique identity for themselves. The likes of ATK Mohun Bagan, Bengaluru FC, FC Goa, Kerala Blasters FC and Mumbai City FC largely qualify as possession-based outfits.

Hence, it wouldn’t have been difficult for the Men of Steel to adopt a similar tack. Yet, they didn’t budge in to that temptation. Instead, they believed in the brand of football their manager has professed and have moulded the players at their disposal to play in a certain manner – a non-negotiable in many respects.

Having said that, there isn’t a dearth of attacking quality in their ranks either. With Alex Lima, Greg Stewart, Jordan Murray and Seiminlen Doungel in the squad, they can still blow teams away (like they did against FC Goa and Odisha FC). And, when things click, they can be as attractive and as enterprising a side as any in the Hero ISL.

The more important facet, however, is that they can also keep pounding at the opposition’s defensive door and bulldoze through it via their blend of energy and efficiency. In fact, Jamshedpur FC’s last two games have seen them snatch 93rd minute (versus NorthEast United FC) and 88th minute (against SC East Bengal) winners, with Ishan Pandita being their guardian angel on both occasions.

In a microcosm, these are the qualities you would want from a Hero ISL outfit – capable defensively but also inclined to throw everything at the opposition without ever backing down from a fight.

Jamshedpur FC might not have generated as much pre-season hype as some of their contemporaries and they certainly might not have been billed for success as much as some of their peers. But with the season entering its home stretch, they still find themselves very relevant in the top four conversation.

From the opponent’s perspective, it might seem (at times) that they were witnessing a mirage as the Men of Steel refuse to go away. After all, no team is crafted to take so much punishment and to invest so much energy in a solitary encounter.

But as they have shown this season, it is an image the rest of the Hero ISL has to get accustomed to, irrespective of whether they are eking out a stalemate, trying to reduce the deficit or actively pursuing a victory that many felt was beyond their reach.  

That alone tells you how far Jamshedpur FC have come this season. And, of course, how far they can still traverse.  

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