ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t - Jamshedpur FC

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ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t - Jamshedpur FC

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Subhayan Dutta

03/08/2019

Jamshedpur missing out on the playoffs was definitely one of the biggest upsets of the season, especially after the way they played. However, despite some individual brilliance and masterful tactics, untimely injuries and suspensions meant that the Steelers would need to wait to make the playoffs.

If going by sheer points then the Steelers have hardly made any progress in ISL this season as compared to their debut campaign. They could manage to garner just one more point from then while finishing in the same fifth position, which further points to the fact that the other teams have progressed more as Jamshedpur remain stagnant.

However, the devil is in the details as some would say and if dug deeper, the Jamshedpur FC administration would be pretty happy with the massive progress that they have made. The targets were pretty simple for JFC – while they had to earn fans in their very first season of the league, their second season was an attempt at retaining those fans. And I feel JFC have laid quite a successful blueprint with the way the club has gone about this season.

What Clicked

First and foremost, the biggest success for the side was new manager Cesar Ferrando, who shared the same vision as the club owners and more importantly, he almost executed it to perfection. The former Atletico Madrid and Valencia manager was appointed to instill the Spanish elements in the side, which was otherwise entrenched in Steve Coppell’s rigid philosophy, and the Spaniard pulled it immaculately. Though it meant that the club had to concede more goals than last season, three more to be précise, it also meant more goals scored and above all fluid passing football that kept the audience at the edge of their seats. Consequently, the 60, 000-seater JRD Tata Complex saw the highest average of 20, 016 attendance per game amongst all the ten teams. Making their debut last season, JFC had the second highest average attending of 21, 374 then after Kochi, and retaining most of the fans wouldn’t be considered a failure in the eyes of the management.

The inclusion of Jamshedpur FC in Indian Super League was significant mainly because of it becoming an outlet for the famous Tata football academy present in the city. Such a huge talent pool in the proximity of the club was bound to see many youngsters breaking into the scene and the best examples of them were Mobashir Rahman, Farukh Choudhary, and Michael Soosairaj. Ferrando should be credited for handing them chances, a responsibility most other ISL managers are not endowed with. Cultivating young talents mightn’t be a pre-requisite for clubs in a league where there isn’t any relegation, thereby keeping winning as their primary target, but JFC’s initiative was still commendable. It might have kept them on the back foot compared to other sides, but the consequence was someone like Soosairaj breaking onto the fore. 

The six-month-long league hardly encourages the competing clubs to offer two-year contracts to its players, breeding a culture of huge revamps every season. While it is difficult to determine if that would harm the league in the long run, it surely has made the job of the managers and their scout teams incredibly difficult. And it was one of the things that JFC got bang on. A huge advantage of getting a manager from a fourth-tier Spanish club was his in-depth knowledge about the local talents. JFC could tap into some of the mesmerizing Spanish players at a cheaper rate like Mario Arques from third-tier CD Alcoyano and Sergio Cidoncha from SD Ponferradina. They got their star of the season, Carlos Calvo, for free. The Spanish trio was directly involved in nine goals and 10 assists throughout the season and Ferrando would now have a clear core of players to build around a squad for next season. The imports worked decently in cases of Indian players as well with the defensive likes of Pratik Chowdhary, Dhanachandra Singh, Augustin Fernandes making a mark.

What Didn’t 

Despite quite a chunk of things going Jamshedpur FC’s way, there still remained some crucial leaks that eventually weighed the side down over the course of 18 games. And the biggest chink in the armour was at the root of their spine – goalkeeping. For all his experience, Subrata Paul was not the leader Ferrando had expected the custodian to be, He ended making just 32 saves from 14 matches, which If compared to likes of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Kamaljit Singh, who all had to stand behind lesser organized defences, was average. In fact, Jamshedpur’s frustrating nine draws were also largely because of their goalie’s inability to keep more than four clean sheets. Paul having a decent 64% saving percentage also hints at the 32-year-old’s inconsistency.

Another position that hardly worked for the Steelers was the strikers'. Now, one of the very few decisions that Ferrando had gotten wrong was undermining the role of a centre forward in ISL. He had kept inexperienced Sumeet Passi and Gourav Mukhi as his centre-forward backups for fan favourite Tim Cahill. Consequently, Jamshedpur often had to dig deep to get goals with Cahill hardly hitting his form throughout the season managing just two goals and an assist in 11 games. While the idea of playing a primarily attacking midfielder up front looked strange to many, the false no. 9 has been a thing in Spain for long now. 

However, Ferrando’s final piece of the puzzle failed to fit and in more ways than one. While Cahill had arrived at the league injured and after few games in between, left the league injured, his backup Mukhi couldn’t survive for long either. The Indian striker had started as quite an enigma scoring once and assisting another in three matches, before getting banned for age fudging. Ferrando’s misfortunes didn’t end there though, as his best player on the pitch, Calvo, was also out for three matches for his racial slur and to further compound that he didn’t have enough funds to replace them in the mid-season transfer window.

Jamshedpur was largely a makeshift squad this season that performed well collectively owing to Ferrando’s tactics. Now that the Spaniard has proved his potential, the fans would be hoping to see a sturdier squad that would cope with the rigours of ISL better next season, and who knows maybe even going on to win the title.

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