Physical intensity. Confidence and nous. Skill and directness. Grit in spite of unenviable odds. These are what made Jamshedpur FC lift the ISL League Shield and won their first piece of silverware in their short history. The combined efforts of Len Doungel, Daniel Chima Chukwu, Greg Stewart, and Ritwik Das pushed Jamshedpur FC against opponents who were supposed to be individually and collectively superior against them.
The winning goal, courtesy of Ritnik, made it in the 56th minute of the last match of the league stage. It was Jamshedpur 1, ATK Mohun Bagan 0 and would remain that way, a moment in which the latest iteration of India’s grand old club was beaten by a forgotten kid from the Mohun Bagan academy. Jamshedpur FC was crowned champions after 97 long minutes.
It was definitely not an outcome that anyone had predicted, but it was surely no accident either. This was Jamshedpur FC’s 7th win in a row, which was also an ISL record. Their tally reached 43 points, which was also another league record. Owen Coyle’s relentless optimism was embodied at its best by his team, who repaid his very best quality on and off the field with glory.
One can just check out those who were involved in that winning goal – Greg Stewart, who was convinced to play in the heat and humidity of Goa from the upper echelons of Scottish football. Chima, who was dismissed as a failure for being harried out of SC East Bengal just recently. Ritwik, who was seemingly consigned to become that stereotypical utility-player journeyman after he had been released from Kerala Blasters. And Doungel, who was released by FC Goa last season, with his contract left to run out.
Coyle transformed this squad of potential has-beens, discarded talent, and misfits into unlikely champions. Instilling belief was Coyle’s superpower – this was especially seen earlier in the match when Das fluffed a straightforward pass to Chukwu, messing up a tremendous 2-on-1 opportunity. But during the 57th minute when the ball landed at Das’ feet, there was no nervousness, no second thoughts. Belief carried him through.
The match started with the galacticos of ATK Mohun Bagan bearing down on Jamshedpur’s misfits, which made the latter nervous initially. The misfits had to weather the storm created by Manvir Singh, Roy Krishna, and Liston Colaco by a combination of discipline, bravery, and just plain old fashioned luck. Inspite of their nervousness, the players of Jamshedpur FC didn’t back down. With Coyle’s expert management, in which he established a clear game plan and made strategic substitutions, his unit delivered its job from its every component.
After the match, Jamshedpur captain Peter Hartley said: “Teams like ours aren’t supposed to win [silverware].” In a way, what he said was right – what happened was straight out of a fairytale, the only place where the powerful and mighty will not always have their way. But it proves that sometimes, fairytales do come true and the underdog can actually become victorious.