ISL 2019 | Jamshedpur FC could be one season away from challenging for title

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ISL 2019 | Jamshedpur FC could be one season away from challenging for title

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Subhayan Dutta


Jamshedpur have had a roller coaster of a season. While they have experienced a monotonous eight draws, they also went from beating FC Goa 4-1 to losing to FC Pune City 1-4. However, if observed closely, all these upheavals might just be the storm before the beautiful rainbow.

There is nothing more frustrating in sports than mediocrity. While the Kerala Blasters, Chennaiyin FC, and Delhi Dynamos FC fans have already moved on, accepting the fact that their season is all but over, the real torture has been for the fans of three mid-table clubs – Jamshedpur FC, ATK, and FC Pune City. They have to sit for every match having immense optimism stemming from immaculate calculations of wins, points, and goal difference, and after all that a win for their team wouldn’t even be content for their qualification now essentially depends on one of top four sides failing.

Appointing Steve Coppell from JFC last season, ATK never expected a high flying campaign anyway, while FC Pune kicked off their season on the worst possible note with newly-appointed Angel Miguel Portugal and the changing managers since then could never guarantee consistency either. However, while the likes of ATK, and to a large extent Pune, who are sitting on the fifth and sixth on the points table respectively, have every possible reason that justifies them being in the position, Jamshedpur definitely looks hard done by. 

The Steelers have been victims of tremendous misfortunes that have occurred and recurred throughout the season. While the lack of relegation in ISL definitely encourages all the sides to experiment with setups and administration, which is essential to building a proper structure at the base, hardly many sides take the path less paved. And Jamshedpur could be credited for it especially after the deviation they chose to have from a successful debut season.

2017-18 was definitely a historical season for the Indian Super League. Not only were the two new teams, Jamshedpur and Bengaluru FC, introduced in the league to make it longer and more competitive tournament, but the arrival for Sergio Lobera also had his share of influence. After the Steelers had finished fifth under Coppell, who has earned a livelihood out of playing negative football and giving consistent results, they had to choose between quality and outcome.

With the likes of ATK, Chennaiyin FC, and Kerala Blasters, all becoming successful by playing rigid football and Jamshedpur themselves earning a fan base from the same in the debut season, choosing the right philosophy that could create their identity for them was a tough call. They chose quality. However, choosing a philosophy wasn’t enough for it needed a good execution as well and Jamshedpur almost got it right.

Getting Cesar Ferrando from a fourth-tier Spanish club required thorough scouting and so did the arrival of the players that came with him. Just when one had thought that Lobera had skimmed the cream of Spain’s fringe players into Goa, Jamshedpur brought in a Mario Arques and Sergio Cidoncha from third tier Spanish clubs CD Alcoyano and SD Ponferradina, and Carlos Calvo, who was, quite unbelievably, a free agent. Together the three players have contributed to nine goals and 10 assists this season and no one could debate that a holding midfielder like Arques, with his range of passing and intelligent game reading, cannot get into almost any ISL team today.

With Memo and Tiri already in the squad from last season, the composition of five foreigners flowed from defence to the midfield well, and the introduction of Tim Cahill from time to time was also expected to give Jamshedpur an edge over others. However, Ferrando wasn’t the one to rely solely on big names and it has reflected in the way Jamshedpur have played this season. From the quintessential defensive side from last season, their style has changed into that would pull even the neutral fans to sit and watch.

When things went their way they were able to beat FC Goa 4-1, Mumbai City FC 2-0, and Chennaiyin FC 3-0, and even when it didn’t go as planned as eight of matches ended in draws, Jamshedpur have rarely been bested in terms of possession or passing accuracy. For example, in their 2-2 draw away against Bengaluru earlier this year, JFC had seen them having 73% passing accuracy as they completed 123 passes more than the hosts. They could also attempt nine shots at the target and manage two goals, something that the Blues managed from 17 shots. The story wasn’t very different in their 1-1 draws against ATK and NorthEast United early on in the season, and many more matches thereafter.

Good possession play blended with quick passing and lightning fast attacks from the flanks – it seemed as if Jamshedpur had taken Bengaluru’s style of play to a whole new level and the only thing missing has been the proper outcome. After Goa (32), Jamshedpur have been the highest scorers in the league with 24 goals and had it not been for the numerous draws, the table would have looked very different today. 

Things haven’t exactly gone Jamshedpur FC, mostly in terms of luck. After Gaurav Mukhi was suspended for the season after the age-fraud allegations against him were proven right, Calvo also faced a three-match ban for his racial slur. Their absences were further compounded by injuries to young sensation Michael Soosairaj, and star signing Cahill. While Ferrando has earned accolades for getting the best of out the likes of Farukh Chowdhury, Bikash Jairu and more, he needed a set team to compete for the playoffs.

Their 4-1 drubbing against FC Pune City yesterday also saw the Steelers dominating possession and completing 291 more passes than their opponents. While they were repeatedly exploited on the counter especially in the second half, Jamshedpur had to change Robin Gurung early on in the game and Ferrando could never really do that.

While Calvo and Soosairaj looked to get back to the side, they were still without Mukhi and Cahill, who had a serious influence on the side’s scoring prowess. All in all, Jamshedpur’s current squad reeks of a work-in-progress that could need just one more season to attain perfection. They have a highly balanced squad and a small tweak here and there, like a good defending partner for Tiri and a more seasoned striker up top, under whom talents like Farukh and Passi would get the right tutelage, could see the team competing alongside fellow debutants Bengaluru FC for the championship next season.

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