With balance of experienced and hungry players, Jamshedpur FC now closer to top teams: Owen Coyle

© Provided by The Times of India

PANAJI: Owen Coyle has handpicked his players carefully this season. In his first season at Jamshedpur FC, Coyle could only manage a sixth-place finish, extending the club’s failure to make it to the playoffs of the Indian Super League (ISL) to four attempts.

The 54-year-old Scottish coach who amazingly took bottom-placed Chennaiyin FC to the final in the previous season, took over a team that had picked just five points from their last 10 matches and won just one of 13. There was quite a lot of rebuilding to do, and he finally appears to have a team that can challenge for a place among the top-four.

“We have a better team and I think we have potential match-winners, certainly more match winners in our team than last season,” Coyle told TOI in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “The key for us is consistency. There are some very good teams, good players signed by clubs and that’s what makes ISL a fantastic league. It’s so competitive, and you have to make sure, you are ready.”

At least prior to pre-season which commences in Goa on October 1, Coyle is confident that he has a team that can challenge the best in business. There’s a thought behind every selection, whether it’s getting Eli Sabia from Chennaiyin, convincing Ishan Pandita to move from FC Goa, signing a clutch of promising players or those like Anas Edathodika and Pronay Halder with a point to prove.

There’s also a method behind finalising the foreign players, five of whom have ISL experience.

“The bio-bubble was a real challenge last year and it will continue to be this year too,” said Coyle. “It’s not easy when you are not being able to see families. That played a part. Position-wise, we wanted a bit more flair. I want my teams to be pleasing on the eye. I want people to enjoy seeing Jamshedpur and win matches at the same time.”

That explains the choice of Sabia, the Brazilian defender who played his best football under Coyle at Chennaiyin. Jordan Murray remains “a very exciting player,” while Peter Hartley and Nerijus Valskis – up there, with the best in ISL, according to his coach — will have their second season at the club.

“Alex (Lima) was 60-70 percent fit last year. He was taking injections to play games for us. He will be much better player,” said Coyle.

Like Lima – who played under Coyle in MLS — several other players at Jamshedpur were missing due to injuries. David Grande and Nick Fitzgerald had restricted roles, while India defender Narender Gahlot played only half the matches.

This year, Jamshedpur have put their trust in a mix of youth and experience.

“We have competition for places and, to be honest, we did not have that last year,” said Coyle. “I feel we also lacked real pace in the team. If you look at my signings with Boris coming in, bringing Farukh (Chaudhary) back, Ishan and others, it’s all going to change. We will be much better.”

Significantly, they now have more than enough national players too with Narender, Farukh, Pronay and Ishan all catching Igor Stimac’s eye.

Five of the six foreign players are tried and tested, while Greg Stewart arrives in India after a season with Rangers FC under Steven Gerrard.

“We want to build a squad like ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai (City) have done. They have real competition for places. We want to have that at Jamshedpur. It’s not easy because you have to get good players to do that. But we have to have the balance of experienced and young, hungry players.

“Looking at the teams, Mumbai City and ATK Mohun Bagan had a slight advantage (last season). But I think we are a little bit closer now. That’s obviously because nobody has kicked the ball yet. Once when the football starts, then you will see the real merit,” said Coyle.

Whatever the results, at least Coyle will be going into this season with a much-better team and plenty of hope.

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