The last time British coach Owen Coyle made an immediate move to a direct rival was back in 2010 when he moved from Burnley to Bolton Wanderers. 'Never Forgotten, Never Forgiven' read one of the banners in the stadium as Bolton hosted their local rivals Burnley soon afterwards the managerial change. Now, after a decade, Coyle has made another move between league rivals with him joining Indian Super League (ISL) side Jamshedpur FC as head coach.
Earlier this year, before sports was brought to a screeching halt by the COVID-19 pandemic, Coyle led Chennaiyin FC to a runners-up finish despite taking charge of the club only in December. His escapades at the Marina Machans would have certainly raised hopes for 'more of the same' among fans for the upcoming season but he would now be plying his trade from the Red Miners.
Chennaiyin and Jamshedpur are not local rivals but still a move to a league rival after a successful season would have surely come as a surprise for a few, would have ruffled a few feathers as well but for Coyle, it was too good a project to miss. He has been offered a two-year deal by the club from Jharkhand which has so far not managed to make it to the playoffs in the three seasons that they have been part of the league, a challenge the former Republic of Ireland striker is relishing.
"My contract with Chennaiyin FC was a short term contract which got over in March. There were a number of offers from both home and abroad but having spoken to the chairman, (CEO) Mukul (Choudhuri), the vision that they have for the club, it's obliviously a fantastic challenge and that's the case everywhere I have been in football, it's always been what is the challenge¦this a fresh challenge and the club has a brilliant infrastructure," Coyle tells Firstpost.
"I loved my time in Chennaiyin, the people there are absolutely fantastic. I have nothing but utmost respect for them¦but it's a new challenge and I want to be the man. The opportunity to take Jamshedpur into the playoffs and the chance to fight for the title because they haven't done that yet and that was a huge thing for me. A huge opportunity to come and try build a team that can play winning football but entertaining football. That was the biggest driving force."
The Scotland-born coach's four-month long sting in ISL last season gave the fans a glimpse in to Coyle's philosophy. A bottom-placed Chennaiyin were reinvigorated into an unstoppable force after Coyle's appointment. He achieved it by giving his players more freedom on the pitch, trusting them with their capabilities and playing an attacking brand of football as they scored 28 goals in 12 league games under him. A longer contract at Jamshedpur would be an opportunity to study his philosophy in detail, which Coyle describes as "taking care of the ball".
"Anybody who has watched my teams knows I am a very attack-minded coach. We love to win games, we love to entertain. We love passing and moving the ball. Our philosophy is taking care of the ball, we are very positive in our outlook. I love my strikers, I love wide players, I love wingers¦we want to build from the back, pass and move the ball. Everybody wants to win but we want to win playing with a style that everybody enjoys watching," says Coyle.
"We want to give the fans a team that represents them, a team that is hard working but a team that also plays with style and panache. So when you watch them playing you are like I enjoy watching my team. Now of course as a head coach you are going to be judged on winning games, so we want to build a team that can win games and play entertaining games."
And it's not just with Chennaiyin that Coyle showed that he could play some very eye-catching football while also winning matches. Coyle achieved some considerable success with Burnley and Bolton during his days as their manager, making the teams, historically considered as rigid, play a more attractive and attacking brand of football. Coyle ended Burnley's 33-year wait for top flight football, getting them promoted to the Premier League in 2009. They would go on to beat the then defending champions Manchester United in the first match at their home ground Turf Moor on return to Premier League. With Bolton, he reached the semifinals stage of FA Cup in 2011.
A tried and tested philosophy, earnest work, commitment has been the major elements of Coyle's managerial repertoire but at the center of all of it has been a smile. A smile is something that has stuck with Coyle from his days of Burnley to Bolton to Blackburn Rovers to Chennaiyin. It's unmissable. It's something you notice first when you see him, as did this journalist when he was in Mumbai earlier this year for a match. A general analysis in England about his sides has been how they smile more under him. That smile has been a product of freedom given to the players to play the football they like, freedom to be positive. Coyle is also a passionate football man who looks like someone who can talk over football for hours and hours. He talks fast and crams more words than anyone into a sentence yet everything he speaks sends the message clearly. At Jamshedpur, he is going to have the same approach, play with a smile but with also a "touch of confidence and bravado."
"We want to play with a touch of confidence and bravado. You need to take risks. If you ask my former players (Nerijus) Valskis, (Rafael) Crivellaro, (Lallianzuala) Chhangte or AndrÃ© Schembri, you ask any of those boys, I told them you go out and try to be positive. It won't come off all the time but I don't want players to be worried. Go out and be positive. Play with a smile on your face. We are very fortunate to have a career in football, it doesn't get any better than this. We are making a living from our hobby. So for me the least you can do is to maximise that potential," says the 54-year-old coach.
To help him achieve his mission, Coyle is bringing along with himself his assistant and trusted lieutenant Sandy Stewart. Sandy became Coyle's teammate in 1990 and both have been footballing partners since then. Every Brian Clough needs his Peter Taylor, so to speak and Sandy has been that man for Coyle, working with him as an assistant coach at St Johnstone, Burnley, Bolton, Wigan Athletic, Houston Dynamo, Blackburn, Ross County and Chennaiyin.
" Jamshedpur FC (@JamshedpurFC) August 7, 2020
"As a head coach people always see you as the figurehead but everywhere I have worked, we work in a group, it's a team effort. Everybody has a job to do and Sandy is a huge part (of it). Sandy has a different characteristics to myself, he obviously has got a good sense of humour¦he's an outstanding coach but he also has an opinion and which is important to me," says Coyle. "Because I don't want when I say something as a coach he totally agrees, I want someone who can pose me some questions."
"Ultimately as a head coach you have to take the final decision but you want someone who can give you a different perspective. We are both passionate about football, we both want to help young players¦.he is not just with me because we are friends but because he is fantastic at the work he does."
His philosophy, past work and performance notwithstanding, the challenge of making the playoffs or to win the title would be ever so daunting. Jamshedpur finished eight last season and Coyle has a rebuilding job on his hands, in contrast he would be up against opponents like Bengaluru FC, ATK, FC Goa and his former team Chennaiyin, clubs which mostly have their foundations laid and core intact.
Coyle has so far dropped enough hints which indicate that local Indian players would be key focus area for the manager. They already have talented young players like Narender Gahlot, Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Aniket Jadhav on their books.
"A long-term contract gives you a chance to put the parts of the jigsaw together. The recruitment would be important, to bring in the right type of players that are comfortable on the ball. The other thing that I love and Jamshedpur has given me the opportunity is to work with young players, to develop them. The club has its tremendous history of the academy and bringing in young players, so that's going to be a big part of it and I am looking forward to that," says Coyle.
"In terms of foreign players, we already have Aitor Monroy and David Grande, two very good players...we will look to strengthen in all areas of the field. The goalkeepers, the midfield, the defence and attackers. I am looking to bring in, both foreign and domestic, a number of players into the team. And I tell you, it will be an exciting team which when people from Jamshedpur watch they would enjoy the style of play but they would also know that they can win football matches."
Another massive challenge for the upcoming season is to be playing amid the pandemic. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the league would have a delayed start from November with matches taking place only in two states, Goa and Kerala. Such a move would mean a long haul for players in a bio-bubble with restricted movement and no contact from people from outside the bubble. The biggest loss for Jamshedpur would be the boisterous home support that they enjoy at the JRD Tata Sports Complex. For Coyle, strong mentality is going to be key to tackle the unknown.
"When we experience those (playing in a bubble) things we will deal with it because it's all going to be new for us but what we can do is to prepare for every eventuality that we can¦what will be important is to have players that have strong mentality. Physically the pre-season would be really important and then when you are in a restricted environment, the mentality side becomes important and the group dynamics that we are all in this together. As talented we are individually, we will need to understand out strengths as a group," says Coyle.
"We will miss our fans and not being at The Furnace (JRD Tata Sports Complex)¦my first game in India was in Jamshedpur and coming to a new country you are never sure of what to expect but coming to Jamshedpur, the stadium, the surface. The surface was as good as anywhere I have seen and then obviously I got to see the training ground, and the facilities. I was immediately struck with how good the infrastructure was at the club. There will be a tinge of disappointment that we won't be able to experience it this year...in the meantime, we have to be ready for whatever comes up to make sure we get the best from the players on the pitch."