NorthEast United must back Khalid Jamil for the long run

Khalid Jamil

Ever since Khalid Jamil’s appointment as the interim coach to replace Gerard Nus, only two managers have managed to keep their jobs with their clubs in the Indian Super League- Manolo Marquez of Hyderabad FC and Owen Coyle of Jamshedpur FC.

Bengaluru sacked Carles Cuadrat mid-season after two years at the club. Robbie Fowler, Kibu Vicuna, Stuart Baxter, and Csaba Laszlo were all relieved from their duties, and except for the last two, none was allowed to complete even a full season with their club. Six games into the season, Antonio Habas was dismissed, while Juan Ferrando left his Goa team and joined Bagan.

Khalid Jamil

For someone alien to Indian Football, the above-mentioned facts will be enough to accentuate the volatility at the top of ISL clubs and the absence of patience and long-term ambitions amongst the teams.

Eelco Schattorie, a well-known name in Indian Football, tweeted something a few days back that might make sense if NorthEast has second thoughts about persisting with Khalid Jamil in the current season or the next.

“How can you have eleven champions?” Especially, how can you enforce the idea of being a champion at the end of the season if you don’t involve the same psyche off the pitch?

NorthEast United FC was not ambitious in the transfer window last summer. Losing Apuia, Fox, and a host of other players in the same window was shocking; failing to replace them with quality players was even worse.

Having to comply with the four foreigners rule, NorthEast United FC had to look for quality Indian options at the back, which was why they signed the likes of Mohammed Irshad and Jestin George. However, neither has been able to cement a place in the starting eleven, which has compelled Khalid to play Hernan and Flottman at the back, thus forgoing a foreign option either in the midfield or up front.

Imran Khan and VP Suhair are NorthEast United FC’s only steadfast Indian options in attack, while the requirement is much more significant given how disappointed Mathias Coureur is with both his performance and the ISL.

Khalid Jamil

Injuries and fate have not been kind to Khalid either, with midfielders Emmanuel Lalchhanchhuaha and Fede Gallego ruled out for the whole season while the other players have struggled with their issues. Deshorn Brown missed as many as four games, against Hyderabad, Chennai, East Bengal, and Bagan due to a hamstring injury. Subhashish Roy Choudhury’s absence has also affected The Highlanders adversely, with Mirshad Michu struggling between the bars.

ATK Mohun Bagan’s equalizer last week came from Michu’s poor goal kick, which was reprised last day against Mumbai City as the 27-year-old failed to make a regulation save, giving the visitors the lead. In addition to Khassa Camara leaving for the AFCON, NorthEast is in a precarious situation with Matthias as well.

Managers can’t do much if individual errors become a regular happening and NorthEast has had its fair share of individual blunders. Mashoor Shareef’s clinical strike into his own goal was what put Bengaluru ahead in the first game of their campaign. Despite Northeast’s 2-1 victory, Goa struck back in the second game through a miss-pass by Provat Lakra near his area. The game which confirmed the lack of quality in NorthEast’s defense was the one where they lost 5-1 to Hyderabad FC. Three of the five goals were scored due to individual errors by players. It was the same story in the last two games, with Mirshad Michu at the helm for most of them.

Khalid Jamil’s team has also floundered at the top. Despite the numerous chances NorthEast has created as a team, the strikers have missed sitters thus failing to kill the game. Fine margins are what determines the result of a football game, and NorthEast United FC has consistently been on the other side. Jamil echoes the same, “Sometimes you are unlucky, but hopefully, we will be lucky. The players know that in football, sometimes you get what you want while sometimes you don’t. You have to work hard as that is the only solution.”

Khalid Jamil

Jamil was provided with a limited squad at the start of the season, but he is well acquainted with the challenges of working on tight funding. Mumbai FC was saved from relegation year after year, while Aizawl won a historic I-League trophy under him working under identical circumstances.

NorthEast United FC must realize, however, that the two leagues and teams competing in them are very different, and Khalid can, on his own, do very little to bring the same magic to NorthEast.

Despite their attempts to reach the top of Indian football, the Highlanders have failed to win any silverware in the last seven years and it might be the ideal time for them to start focusing on a long-term project with Khalid Jamil at the helm.

In his 12-year long managerial career, Khalid Jamil has invariably served as a players’ manager. In his comments, last summer, Ashutosh Mehta, a player whose career has been heavily influenced by Jamil, highlighted, “In Indian football, there are only a handful of individuals who have been able to extract the real potential of young Indian footballers; Khalid Bhai is one such coach who gives us the liberty to express ourselves fearlessly.”

VP Suhair and Imran Khan from the current NorthEast squad have been two of the latest players to voice similar views. Upon Khalid Jamil’s arrival as the new manager, the former became a starter and an instant hit in the Indian Super League, while the latter has been remarkable this season.

He is one of India’s best coaches and takes care of all aspects of players starting from training sessions to situations during the game.” says Suhair while Imran echoes, “He always tells me to play and enjoy my game. It’s easy for me because he gives me confidence. He is one of the best coaches in India.”

Khalid’s knowledge of the limitations and qualities of Indian players is invaluable in a league where seven out of the eleven players starting in a game have to be Indians.

NorthEast United’s move to continue with Khalid for the new season was a bold one and now they need to show some more courage and back him when things may not be right, as, under Khalid, they can only go onwards and upwards. The Highlanders must stick with Khalid and equip him with the players he needs, as that is the only way they will be able to compete for the silverware during a time when financial heavyweights like Mumbai and Bagan will presumably dominate the league for years to come.  

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