The right side of attack was Steve Coppell’s stomping ground during a distinguished, if relatively short, playing career that saw him make 322 appearances for Manchester United and win 42 caps for England. As coach of Jamshedpur FC, though, the plain-speaking 62-year-old is placed bang in the middle of affairs as the debutant franchise finds its feet in the Indian Super League
Beginning as a manager at the ripe young age of 28, following a career-ending knee injury, Mr Coppell took charge of Crystal Palace in 1984 and guided it to the top flight of English football. He has been a manager with nine other clubs — inclusive of a forgettable 33-day spell with Manchester City in 1996 — using an analytical approach that perhaps has a bit to do with graduating in economics while still a professional footballer.
Pragmatic and efficient are the words used most often to describe the squads Mr Coppell has coached and these qualities are reflected in the displays of Jamshedpur FC in the 10-club league. The Liverpool native speaks here to Tata Review about the team and how it was put together, the players and their showing thus far.
There was no great thought process behind it. To be honest, I was on the verge of signing for Kerala Blasters but that didn’t happen for whatever reason. Then Ishfaq Ahmed, who I had worked with back at Kerala Blasters, informed me about the possibility of a new franchise from Jamshedpur. I heard that the Tatas were supporting the project and that got me extremely interested.
I had no idea about Jamshedpur as a city. I met the management team in Mumbai and they convinced me to join. I knew that the Tata Football Academy had been in existence for many years and I knew that the club had a stadium that needed a lot of work. Jamshedpur FC was an exciting opportunity and a combination of various factors led me to sign up for it.
We had the chance to get the players we wanted. We didn’t have the option, like the other teams did, of retaining players but we had the first and second picks in the draft. We wanted a good Indian goalkeeper and that’s what we went for first. I had scouted players in the previous Federation Cup and we tried to secure those who were in form. Some we got and some we didn’t. I relied heavily on Ishfaq for the rest of the team since he is aware of the physical and mental elements I look for in my players. And that’s how we selected our 15 Indian players in the draft.
The next step was to bring in the international players. We wanted to sign players who had previous ISL experience. In the first half of the season, we had seven international players and in January we added Wellington Priori to complete our quota of eight. The whole process is a patchwork quilt; there is no formula. You take advantage of the situation you’re in and make the most of it from there on.
We have been formed from nothing and whatever happens this year is going to be positive. We are unlike the other teams, in that they had three years of experience in the league. Even Bengaluru FC had three successful seasons in the I-League before making its ISL debut, so they knew what needed to be done.
As far as Jamshedpur FC is concerned, this has been a superb foundation season. Overall, it has been a learning experience for the club, especially in terms of logistics. We now know the what, when, where and how of Jamshedpur, and we also learned about travelling to other cities from Jamshedpur and competing there.
I have had interactions but not a whole lot of them. My points of contact have been Mukul Choudhari (the chief executive of Jamshedpur FC) and Sunil Bhaskaran (vice president, corporate services, Tata Steel). When I really need something to happen, they always magically get it done. They don’t tread on my toes and I don’t tread on theirs. We trust one another.