Debutants Jamshedpur look to play the Steve Coppell way
Steve Coppell comes to Jamshedpur FC with a simple philosophy: Don't be fake. Be Steve Coppell. Be the best Steve Coppell you can be.
But he was never meant to be here in the first place.
Coppell's India odyssey took a sharp turn in July 2017. Indian Super League's (ISL) newest entrants, Jamshedpur FC, had convinced the man - who was on the verge of getting back to the Kerala Blasters for a second season - to sign for them for their first outing in professional football. "I had agreed a new deal with Kerala, and then for various reasons it just seemed to evaporate," he tells ESPN.
Coppell's 322 appearances for Manchester United and 987 games as manager in England could be precisely what Jamshedpur need in their ISL debut.
"The mood is full of anticipation," Coppell says of the newly-formed group of players carefully picked from the ISL draft and the transfer market. Paying Rs 1.1 crore (about $169,400) to pick Anas Edathodika (the joint-costliest Indian player) and Rs 87 lakh ($133,970) for Subrata Pal (the costliest Indian goalkeeper), Coppell and his crew also managed to sign eight foreigners -- six of whom have already played in the ISL -- and two (José 'Tiri' Arroyo and Sameehg Doutie) with a winners' medal.
"There was something really challenging about the whole experience, of a new franchise, of a new city, a challenging city geographically. I had a chat with the people I trust, my loved ones and they just said go for it."
Jamshedpur's roster is exciting. Tiri, Anas and Subrata at the back. Doutie, Bikash Jairu and Kervens Belfort on the wings with some flair coming from Trindade Goncalves in midfield. These are all players who know the ISL, the conditions and the hymns of the league.
So, Steve must be ready for the season, then?
"I don't think any coach thinks that their team is 100% ready. There are glitches, little things you think we could have done better and we should have spent more time doing. We got two away games to begin with. It is difficult in any league in the world. As much as we are looking forward to it, we respect both teams we are going to play against and know that we will have to get to speed very, very quickly."
In the past three-four weeks, the team has primarily been doing two things: training and attending functions. The latter, Steve says, is an attempt to "try and make the people of Jamshedpur aware of football and the coming season." Jamshedpur as a city is not new to football. Jamshedpur FC's home ground has been in existence since 1991 and the city boasts of one of India's best-run football academies -- the Tata football academy -- which was started in 1987. But Coppell, after seeing the delirium in Kerala, wants to make sure people flock to their 60,000 seater stadium.
"I hope that in time the people of Jamshedpur will embrace this football team the way the Blasters fans embrace theirs."
As the talk goes to what kind of football he is looking to impart, the Englishman uses the term "Chameleon team" -- playing to adapt. "As an ex-winger I like to see width in the play. But sometimes it's not possible. Either because of injuries or personnel or whatever. I like to see pace, but sometimes you have to change accordingly and see the opposition and see their strengths and weaknesses in a very short season."
Coppell uses the word 'short season', because he still doesn't believe the shift from a two-month league to a five-month one makes the league any bigger, on what he calls a "hit and run" league, saying, "You can go on competing on a world stage by playing 30 games a season in sporadic bursts."
"A piece of advice when I first came into management is just be yourself. I am myself. I just look and do my best on a daily basis to create an environment that the players feel they can express themselves. Inevitably, because you live with the players, they see your flaws and you wish possibly sometimes they didn't see them, but at the end of five months you get to know each other almost intimately and the real person is exposed so I don't profess to be any kind of coach, manager, mentor, man-manger, motivator, anything."
The team's biggest problem, which shouldn't be used as an "excuse", he says, is travelling. Jamshedpur doesn't have an airport. The team travelled for its first game to Guwahati from Ranchi, a three-hour bus ride from Jamshedpur. The second nearest airport is Kolkata, which is a four-hour train journey.
But with a year in India under his belt, Coppell has a head start. "Yes, I have a little bit of experience, but not a great deal. Experience is not going to help us win games, but it might help us prepare a little a better."
Steve Coppell remains realistic with his 'Chameleon team', but more importantly he is being himself.