When Jamshedpur FC won the Indian Super League (ISL) Winners Shield last season, it was the first-ever silverware for the industrial town. A year later, the club finds itself second from bottom, with 13 points in 18 games.
Where exactly the pummel began is difficult to understand, but the head coach did offer some answers.
“We underestimated the loss of Greg Stewart. Greg – who had 10 goals and 10 assists last season – would be very difficult to replace,” said Aidy Boothroyd “and the fact that we were in Goa (in the last season). When you travel, you have some strengths and some weaknesses. So travel makes a big difference.”
The Englishman’s words do bear some truth in the fact that Stewart has continued to be a menacing presence for opponents in ISL, scoring 14 goals and 11 assists in 25 matches across competitions for Mumbai City FC as his side won the League Winners Shield this week.
But the cracks run deeper than the words after losses – which saw the team fail to retain even its captain Peter Hartley, who left mid-season this year.
The Champions’ Exodus?
When Ajax won the Champions League in 1995, a string of future superstars left the club in the next three years.
Clarence Seedorf left the very next season, while Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der Saar and Marc Overmars followed.
Jamshedpur may have been one such club, but its first exit was the ringmaster of the circus, Owen Coyle, one of the most successful British coaches in Indian club football, who left for Scottish Championship club Queen’s Park.
The majority of the main team followed him out of the door, leaving the club marooned into a dark corner of gloom — one that was inherited by Boothroyd on his arrival.
Stewart moved to a City Football Group-owned Mumbai City while Alex Lima, Mobashir Rahman and Pawan Kumar (East Bengal FC), Narender Gahlot (Odisha FC) and Jordan Murray (Thailand’s (Swat Cats) all left the club.
The final nail in the coffin was Hartley – JFC’s pillar in defence and the team’s captain for the last two seasons – who moved to Britain to rejoin his local club Hartlepool.
“It was a different team that I took over,” Boothroyd told reporters after JFC’s last home game as the team regrouped for aims for a better performance the next time around.
Poor signings as replacements
Daniel Chima Chukwu, JFC’s current striker, has four goals in 17 appearances and continues to be the bellwether of the pack. Harry Sawyer, brought in as a secondary striker, to fill in the void for Stewart, has managed to net one and assist three – 20 per cent of what Greg had, in terms of goal contribution.
Rafael Crivellaro – Chennaiyin’s midfield wizard once – with 17 goal contributions in 27 appearances, who joined the side in winter, has also earned just two assists in 10 matches.
But beyond signings, there is another entity that saw the team change from a team of snarling lions to a bunch of toothless kittens in the lower half of the league table.
The Aidy Boothroyd question
Boothroyd’s approach to games, over the years, has seen him intend a draw first and then a win – something that attracted severe criticism during his time as the manager of the England U21 team.
Armed with a team featuring Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Maddison, Boothroyd inherited a major chunk of the team that had won the U-17 FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2017.
Under the Englishman for over five years, though the Three Lions (the U21 side) reached the semifinal of the U21 Euros once, it was eliminated in the group stage twice in a row, (2019 and 2021), with The Times noting how Boothroyd turned world beaters into failures.
After 18 games, Jamshedpur FC had 34 goals last season as compared to just 15 under Boothroyd with the team slumping even in shot accuracy under the English manager.
Boothroyd changed the team’s shape from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 and sometimes to a 4-4-1-1, both of which saw the team lay back, trying to draw the opponent out and limit them space in the box.
While the plan worked sometimes, like the one against ATK Mohun Bagan, it fell flat against quick attacks, like those against FC Goa (0-3 loss) and Bengaluru FC (0-3 loss).
Comparing the team to the one last season, both sides had about 14 shots per match, Coyle’s JFC had 4.7 shots on target to 3.6 at the moment.
Coyle averaged 1.69 points per match at the club, almost double of what Boothroyd has (0.72).
If the Red Miners fail to win both their next matches, they will finish with the lowest tally in a single ISL season – a year after it won a silverware.
At a team that has seen only one head coach (Coyle) continue for more than a season, it will be interesting to see if Boothroyd continues after a forgetful performance in pursuit of a new dawn or if the club returns to its loop to appoint a new head coach for the upcoming season.
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