The Hearts of Steel || Know Your Opponent ft. Jamshedpur FC

The Hearts of Steel

Jamshedpur FC celebrating 21/22 Shield Win (Courtesy: JFC Media)

While explaining his vision on the creation of India’s first planned industrial city, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, the founder of the Tata group, is famously known to have written to his son Dorabji Tata in 1902 to “Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens; reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks”. In 1919, the then Viceroy of the British Raj Lord Chelmsford renamed the city to Jamshedpur in honour of its creator. Just like his father, Sir Dorabji also understood the importance of sports in uniting people, which was crucial at a time in which the Indian struggle for independence was at its peak, and he funded the first Indian contingent to the Olympics. 

This love for sports ran across the family as J.R.D. Tata oversaw the foundation of the Tata Sports Club in 1937 which was responsible for the development of numerous great athletes of the country. Their football team, operating out of Mumbai were runners-up thrice in the Rovers Cup and featured the likes of Pradip Chowdhury and Shabbir Ali. In 1987, Russy Modi, the then chairman of the group oversaw the establishment India’s first fully residential football academy. He also welcomed top clubs from European and South American football such as VFL Bochum, Sao Paolo FC and PSV Eindhoven in the 80s and early 90s to play matches with the best Indian XI of that time. After 36 years, the Tata Football Academy boasts contributing more than 150 professionals or ‘cadets’ into the Indian footballing scene, which includes the likes of Carlton Chapman, Mahesh Gawli, Subrata Paul, Renedy Singh, Udanta Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi, and even current Mohun Bagan Indian assistant manager Clifford Miranda, who is now set to face the Tata’s club to the ISL, Jamshedpur FC.

Surendra Kumar playing for the Tata Sports Club (Courtesy: Tata Central Archives)

I. “A little more Promise”


“It (the ISL) changed the way football was presented. Now that it is a little more professional, little more organised and there is a little more promise in development of football in a commercial manner, we stepped in,” Mukul Choudhari, CEO, Jamshedpur FC and Tata Chief of Sports Excellence Centres to The Hindu


When the Tata group showed interest in having their own top tier professional football club, it surprised many, since they traditionally disassociated themselves from the commercial aspects of the game and instead focused on scouting and developing the youth and feeding talents into the country’s footballing arena. What put them off till then was the age-old problems the AIFF and clubs were plagued with, such as the dearth of investment, poor advertising, lack of interest from most parts of the country, corruption and mismanagement by the organisers. Although the Indian Super League, which had been initially frowned upon by many, especially by the more elderly enthusiasts, for being too showy, glittery and emotionless, the manner in which the league was planned and executed to near perfection every season was enough to convince the Tata officials to finally step into the league, which had by then grown many organic passionate fanbases, and was open to inclusion of more clubs to increase competitiveness. Eventually even the elderly folks around me started to appreciate this franchise league and tuned in when their slapstick Bengali serials were becoming a bit too cringey.

Thus came the 2017 player’s draft, and the Tatas reached deep into their pockets as they spent nearly 13 crores on players, renovated the JRD Tata Complex football ground for 20 crore, and also paid a franchise fee of 15 crore. They managed to rope in Manchester United legend Steve Coppell as their first ever coach, who had led Kerala Blasters, the team with second least squad value the season prior to the ISL final where he lost on pens to Jose Francisco Molina’s ATK. The first season ended with a lost opportunity to make the playoffs on their final match as they required a victory against Goa at home, which they lost 3-0, as goalkeeper Subrata Pal got sent off in the eighth minute of the game. That seasoned featured more or less a typical English playing philosophy, involving a sound defense, but lacking in attacking creativity. The formation revolved around a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-2-2-2, and included ISL legend Tiri at defense, Souvik Chakraborty as full back, Brazilian Memo at defensive mid and a young Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Farukh Chaudhury in the wings.

Jamshedpur FC in their first ever match against NEUFC which ended in a goalless draw (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Their second season ended up being an exact replica of their first in terms of results as they against missed out on playoffs through losing a must win match against the North East. The Spanish philosophy under new head coach Cesar Ferrando Jimenez, who even had managed Atletico de Madrid for a year back in 2004, kicked in as their ball possession increased from 39% in 2017 to 56%, from one of the lowest to the highest in the league. Although they did score nearly double the number of goals (from 16 in first season to 29), and conceded only 3 more, they were on the tougher side of luck on multiple occasions as they drew half of their games that season and lost only thrice. They had quite a few goal scoring outlets this time around, as their highest scorers Carlos Calvo and Michael Soosairaj contributed only 4 goals each, but the team’s inability to sustain their leads and also going through an injury crisis is probably what cost their qualification that season.

It was a baffling move to many when Cesar Ferrando was not given an extension at the end of an impressive season spoiled by injuries, but the contract given to him had a clause that his tenure could be continued only if a playoff spot was achieved. Even though the context of that time should have provoked the Tata’s to reconsider that criterion, Ferrando returned back to the club he came from, and Antonio Iriondo was put at the helm of coaching. They had a great first half of a season (till the 9th game) as they were placed 4th, but injuries to their creator and finisher Piti and Sergio Castel broke down the team as their Indian replacements hardly created any threat in front of the opposition. They only won once and drew twice in their remaining 9 games and finished 8th out of the 10 teams.

II. “I Loved Everything”


“My very first match in India was at Jamshedpur against Jamshedpur FC. I was very impressed by the stadium, the pitch, training facilities and overall infrastructure. I loved everything. In the summer when I was a free agent, I had numerous offers both home and abroad but then came the offer from Jamshedpur. The vision that the officials of the club had was similar to mine. I understood what they wanted to achieve. The infrastructure of the club was something which appealed to me the most,” Owen Coyle to Goal.


Owen Coyle as Jamshedpur Coach (Courtesy: ISL Media)

After doing wonders with Chennaiyin (check out our Know Your Opponent on Chennaiyin FC for that), what made the Jamshedpur project attractive to Owen Coyle was the understanding between the club and him that it won’t be a short term endeavour, and thus he was offered a two year contract. The first year was all about the transition as they overhauled their Indian contingent, by welcoming Jackichand Singh, T P Rehenesh, Laldinliana Renthlei and Ricky Lallawmawma among others. Owen also brought in a face familiar to him, Nerijus Valskis, along with defenders Nigerian Stephen Eze and English Peter Hartley and attacking mid Altor Monroy Rueda. Nerijus scored 8 while Altor assisted 6, with surprisingly CB Stephen Eze finding the net four times. With 7 wins and 6 draws totalling 9 more points and reducing the goal difference by 12 compared to their previous season, the team improved its position by two. There were lot more positives which weren’t much apparent on pitch, and most importantly the team was more bonded and morally high than ever before, and it could be sensed that something special was being baked in the furnace.

They began the 21/22 season convincingly staying unbeaten for the first 4 games, winning 2 of them against Goa (with 25% possession) and mighty Mohun Bagan. After suffering a 4-2 loss away at Mumbai, they put four goals past Odisha, then drew twice and lost their encounter against Owen Coyle’s former club Chennaiyin which put the Red Miners at 6th position after 9 games. A similar story was starting to get repeated again, where a decent start to the season was getting marred by inconsistencies in the later parts, but it is at this moment that Coyle’s charisma, calmness and expert mentorship help turn the tides and overcome this rough patch. Three back to back victories at home marked with commendable defensive performances and Ishan Pandita late winners, was followed by a loss to Bengaluru away. 

Then came that famous 7 game winning streak in which the team scored an astounding 22 goals as they conquered the League. The title race with Mohun Bagan went on till the very final matchday, as the Mariners needed a 2-0 win against Jamshedpur themselves, but Greg Stewart and Co. churned out a favourable result for themselves. Although they couldn’t go past the semis against Bengaluru, the furnace was glaring with a majestic flame, and the team which was written off by most fans and pundits at the beginning of the season was rejoicing its first taste of silverware.

Jamshedpur FC celebrating 21/22 Shield Win (Courtesy: JFC Media)

III. “Nobody is unbeatable”

“I think you have to adapt to your opponents and be clever with your game plan. They’re a really good team but nobody is unbeatable. Even the best team can always have a bad day, and if we have a good day we might get a result and we’re going to try and do that,” Aidy Boothroyd, ISL Press Conference before match against Mumbai City FC


Even though Aidy Boothroyd used these words to describe Mumbai City FC, but it just fitted into the story of the 22/23 Jamshedpur season so much more aptly. At that moment, the Red Miners were sitting second last in the table, with 9 points from 15 games. It was the season where the unbeatable got beaten, and the former best team had the worst days imaginable. Greg Stewart continued to impress, but for the team which Aidy was going to face next after this press conference, and when his replacement Wellington Priori, who returned for his second stint for the club got injured early in the season, Jay Emmanuel Thomas was pushed back into a deeper role which didn’t suit him because his preferred position was that of a second striker. The title winning defense which got retained, was marred with individual errors, the lackluster midfield failed to connect the defense to the attack as the team solely depended on long balls to misfiring forwards. It was the second time that a team previously managed by Owen Coyle crumbled once he left, this time due to personal reasons, which only further proved his prowess in scouting foreign and Indian talents and achieving incredible successes with sub par teams. They won three and drew one of their last four games, and won all their games in the Super Cup group stage against Goa, Mohun Bagan and Gokulam, but Boothroyd parting ways at the end of the season was an understandable decision.

Now that the multitude of player quality issues plaguing the team was highlighted throughout a demoralising season, it was time to respond strongly in the transfer window. The foreign incomings have been impressive which includes the likes of Petar Sliskovic, Alen Stevanovic, Rei Tachikawa and Jeremy Manzorro, although the Indian signings have not been equally convincing as three players from North East (who had finished 22/23 one position below JFC with 5 points) Emil Benny, Imran Khan and Provat Lakra (0 ISL appearances in 22/23) were brought in, but after first few matches, it is evident that these three were not brought as starters, as the team trusted on their existing Indian contingent, although Laldinliana Renthlei, Farukh Choudhary, Ishan Pandita and Boris Singh have left the club. To counter these departures, late in the transfer window, Sanan Mohammed K was scouted from the Reliance Foundation Youth Champs, Nongdamba Naorem was given a chance for redemption as he was picked out from the Mohun Bagan reserves, and Muirang  and Semboi were welcomed from Bengaluru and East Bengal respectively.

Jamshedpur FC general 23/24 set up (Courtesy: ISL on JioCinema)

Their 23/24 has been a season of mixed results till now, with a win against Hyderabad, goalless draws against East Bengal and Punjab, and defeats away at Kerala and Guwahati as they sit at 7th, although all the teams below them do have a game in hand. Two stats in which Jamshedpur feature third among all teams this season might help explain their difficulties this time around viz. Shots and Big Chances Missed. They have been defensively stable and have developed an attack featuring four to five players who undergo many positional interchanges. It can be said that new interim head coach Steve Cooper is trying to develop principles of relationism, as the attackers like to make quick passes between them to find spaces for through balls, or find a cut back or cross into the box or to the late runner, to shoot from a longer distance. 

What has been key in their chance creation is the presence of multiple foreign attackers viz Daniel Chima Chukwu, Alen Stevanovic, Rei Tachikawa and Jeremy Manzorro. While Manzorro, who has a profile somewhat similar to Ahmed Jahouh, sits a lot deeper, and is used for distribution and progressive passes, the other three too don’t shy away from dropping down, pressing the opposition’s midfielders, and start quick attacks when possession is won. It is due to team effort that Jamshedpur, at the end of matchweek 5 have conceded the least goals per match (0.6), the second best record in this front being that of Mohun Bagan’s (0.67 per match). Arguably their best player till now has been Elsinho who was signed from Portuguesa Santista who play in the second division of the Sao Paulo state football league (and their mascot being a female donkey). He has not been dribbled past even once, has recorded 22 clearances, 5 interceptions, and has completed 85% of his attempted passes in his own half.


JFC 23/24 Average Formation against NEUFC (L) and HFC (R) [Sofascore]

Since they have employed a 5 at the back system along with 2 wingers, they generally lack presence in the midfield, which although is compensated mostly through Manzorro and Pranoy’s presence along with trackbacks of Rei and Stevanovic, they have had to face the fifth highest number of shots among all teams (51), 17 of them being on target, which only goes to further prove their defensive successes till now. Their principled approach has made it difficult for teams to find spaces, but they have not shied away from proactively attacking and have attempted 12.4 shots per 90, third-most in the league, behind FC Goa (18.5) and Mohun Bagan (16.67), the team whom they are going to face off on the first evening of November at the JRD Tata Sports Complex. 

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