News Article

Khalid Jamil: Story of a footballing warrior

Written by: Mrunal Nakashe

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Branded a ‘failed coach’, the former India international has resurrected his managerial career by leading the northeast outfit to title success…

When Khalid Jamil left Mumbai FC last season, his career was at a crossroad. Many argued that life outside of Mumbai would be unthinkable for the man who had become part of the furniture at the metropolis club, having been there both as player and coach. But as the saying goes ‘the show must go on’, it did for Jamil. When many would have gone for safer choices, the former midfielder, in keeping with his character, chose a road less travelled, in a bid to resurrect his career. That road took him to the beautiful northeast and the tranquil settings of the Mizoram capital, Aizawl.

This was a project with its own challenges that many lesser men would have shied away from. Though they won many hearts along the way, the club had been relegated in their debut season in the I-League, only to find a way back in the top flight for a second campaign. Here, Jamil took under his wing a squad that many thought would need major surgery to even be competitive in the top tier. That, with resources even more depleted than the ones he enjoyed at his former club. If you had mentioned that this team would go on to win the title you would probably have been laughed off and rightly so.

Intense and determined, Khalid was always ready for the occasion. The 40-year-old is the youngest coach to win the I-league, EVER!

Jamil’s team was trailing by a goal in the final league game and came Khalid’s half time talk. “At the half-time, I just told the boys that you won’t get another such 45 minutes in your life. We knew we were 45 minutes away from being the Champion. We had to be extra special in the second half,” said a coach, who has savoured the victory more than anyone.

Jamil has made a career out of getting the best from the players at his disposal and creating starts rather than buying them. He stayed true to those virtues in this adventure in the northeast. Aizawl’s off season business was centred on two cornerstones, intelligent acquisition and opportunity to youth.

So, in keeping with these principles, in came the likes of Albiono Gomes, Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta from his old stomping ground. From the foreign market, the club added the experience of Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna, defender Kingsley Obumneme and striker Kamo Stephane Bayi, while the diligent Alfred Jaryan returned for a second stint.

A key feature of this squad was that its core remained local. This emphasis on youth enabled the discovery of talents like Albert Zohmingmawia, Laldanmawia, Lalmuankima and others. By the time they took the field against the mighty East Bengal in the season opener in Kolkata, it was clear that this was a team to be reckoned with.

That performance on opening day against the Red and Gold was typically gritty and determined qualities that have characterised Jamil’s teas for years. Indeed, it was a display that would define their campaign

The foundations of this Aizawl success were definitely laid at the back and, of course, they turned the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium into a fortress. With eight wins and a draw from their nine outings with three goals conceded, it wasn’t a place where visiting teams got much change from. On the whole, the team scored 24 goals conceding 14 over in 11 wins, four draws and three defeats over the course of the season.

Obviously, there were bumps along the way especially when they lost away to Bengaluru FC and squandered a two-goal lead against Minerva Punjab. Even then, whenever they have faced a test of character, they responded with aplomb and so did their manager. There were as ever key men in every area of the pitch, but if there was an example of a team that embodied its coach, this was it.

Jamil with the I-league title and two key cogs in Aizawl FC's wheel this season, Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta

As far as matches go, this was a gamble for both club and manager. However, Aizawl knew they couldn’t do worse than last year and so it was Jamil who stood to lose the most if the move didn’t work. In the event, the enigmatic former midfielder has risen above all challenges to script the most remarkable success in the history of Indian football. It is a title triumph that has not resurrected his repute in the domestic game but also catapulted him into elite company.

The story of Aizawl is also one that reinforces the relevance of romanticism in football and the pride of place that the northeast holds in the Indian game. As Jamil looks forward to future challenges, it is perhaps a kind of extreme irony that only sport can present, that his former club, where he was branded a ‘failed coach’, have experienced relegation while he has gone north both literally and figuratively.

 

Published: Mon May 01, 2017 05:53 PM IST

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