Aizawl FC's Khalid Jamil an affectionate and compelling leader behind an ice-cold demeanour

It's not often that you are able to hear a manager's voice in a football arena, where the crowd is making a fair amount of noise. Certainly not when there's an entire football pitch between you and him. But with Khalid Jamil, it's an exception. Cooperage used to be quite noisy even during his time as Mumbai FC manager, an era hardly decorated with success, but Khalid's grunts, which oozed varying degrees of emotions, always found a way through all the clamour.

Watching the game from the near-perfect view of the press box, the frantic movement of Jamil beaming across his technical area, would grab your attention. It used to be relentless, from start to finish.

But by the time he entered the press conference room after the game was over, one wondered if he was the same man on the touchline. He cut a rather cold, subdued and calm figure. His body language suggested nothing, his face gave away little as he stared back at the gathered reporters with his cold eyes. His brief answers would neither exude the joy of a victory nor the agony of a defeat. He often repeated the obvious and overused old cliches, and it seemed that an inarticulated tape was being played over and over again.

The lack of elocution on Jamil's part often led people to believe that he was short on knowledge and understanding, sometimes it was even perceived as arrogance. Jamil's bland post-game portrayal thus struggled to make the back pages, if not make bold headlines.

Khalid Jamil addressing a post-match press conference during his time as coach of Mumbai FC. Image Courtesy: Mumbai FC

Khalid Jamil addressing a post-match press conference during his time as coach of Mumbai FC. Image courtesy: Mumbai FC

There was still plenty to be admired of the league's youngest coach to acquire an AFC 'A' License and being among the few to have the AFC Pro license. He carried a club with a meager budget through its infant stages, and more importantly, unscathed. But as they say, nobody remembers the losers, and Jamil had no tangible accolades to show for his good work at the club.

It needed something path-breaking for the world to understand the size of Jamil's achievements as a coach, and it came in the form of an unprecedented I-League triumph with Aizawl FC, a club who until that point were at a loss for nation-wide identity.

Still, even after masterminding the greatest fairytale in Indian football's history, the emotions coming from Jamil were scarce. There was a bit of celebration after the triumph, but the 40-year-old played a strictly peripheral part in it. After the game, in another simplistic press conference, he quietly hailed it as his greatest triumph ever, before beginning to look ahead to the Federation Cup campaign, another challenge awaiting his Aizawl side in dreamland.

"As soon as one game is over, he starts preparing for the next game. During the recovery day or an off day, when the players get to relax, he doesn’t relax," Henry Picardo, who was the team manager at Mumbai FC throughout Jamil's time as Mumbai FC Head Coach, told Firstpost. 

"When he was at Mumbai FC he used to call me around 10 times the day after a game, discuss the various combinations, strategies that we could use in the next game. He used to sit and analyse the videos, study opponents. There was no break for him. Out of the 24 hours, he dedicates about nine hours only to football," Picardo added.

From the outside, Jamil appears to be a strict tactician, a disciplinarian and a coach who would be involved in a lot of planning and tactical preparation with his players. But his methods involve constant pep talk with his players, both individually and as a team. It is a tool that he very effectively uses to get the best out of them.

"One or two days before a game, Khalid used to call each and every player individually, beginning from the starting XI players to the substitutes. He used to ensure they understand everything what he wanted them to do. That used to be a very long meeting," revealed Picardo.

"Khalid is not a coach who will make you watch videos of the opponents for hours. He knows what quality his players have and motivates them to use it to the best possible effect," said Steven Dias, who played under Jamil during his last season at Mumbai FC.

Dias played a key role in helping Mumbai FC escape relegation on the last day in that season at the club and recalls the game against Shillong Lajong where he scored a free-kick to help his win a crucial encounter. Dias recalled how Jamil constantly backed him to be the match-winner before the game and urged him to just "focus on his quality" and "not think about anything else."

Jamil is a top motivator. He has a knack of getting more than 100 percent out of his players. His teams' values have always been greater than the sum of its parts, and there can be no bigger testimony to this than guiding a team like Aizawl to the I-League title.

He makes his team play in a way that gives problems to the opposition. With him, there's no philosophy, there's no style or a fixed blueprint, apart from planning and getting the better of the team that's in front of him.

This pragmatic approach has been perceived as defensive by many, but in Jamil's case it was more often the case of trying to beat a team with superior quality than the one he managed. The Kuwait-born coach had great success in doing so as he often gave the big boys in the league plenty of problems. Jamil's Mumbai FC lost only one of the six games they played against Bengaluru FC, who finished as champions in two of those seasons, while ending up as runners-up on the final day of the other. Even at Aizawl, he lost just two games against the top five sides in the table.

"Playing defensive or offensive always depended on the opposition team. Even when we defended we always had a surprise weapon of the counter-attack which helped us take down so many big teams at the time. It was a very effective strategy," Rahul Bheke, the current East Bengal full-back, who was a mainstay in Khalid Jamil's Mumbai FC side of the 2015 season told Firstpost.

Jamil used to play a more counter-attacking game at Mumbai FC. He packed the team with hard workers and a few physical players. He used set-pieces to great effect and his Mumbai FC side had about 3-4 players who could make a long throw-in. His side made the best use of a small Cooperage pitch and frustrated vising teams.

At Aizawl, Jamil had a more expansive approach. His team played some beautiful football at times. Compared to Mumbai FC, he had more technically-superior players at Aizawl and he used them to his advantage. His Aizawl side was extremely athletic, and more often than not, they outran teams in matches. At Mumbai FC, Jamil used Jayesh Rane on the wings and used his pace to counter attack teams. At Aizawl, the youngster was given a more central role, where Jamil made use of his quality in tight and congested areas of the pitch.

"The one biggest trait that I found in Khalid was the way he used the quality in his team. He is not a coach who will come and say that let’s play like Barcelona or a Real Madrid. He very well understood the quality of every individual player he had, always backed it and set up the team accordingly. His understanding of the game is impeccable," Dias told Firstpost.

Catching hold of Jamil for an interview is a very tough task. He takes ages to get off the pitch after the training ends. Even while going to the dressing room, he always has some or the player by his side to whom he's talking. On a rare occasion when you catch hold of him, his answer is always the same: "Pehle player ka lo, wohi khelte hai, uske baad mera (Take the player's interview first, they are the ones who play, I will give you one later)."

The later never came, as he never ran out of players to offer for an interview ahead of him. It might be an excuse to refuse an interaction, but his desire to let his players have their due was certainly genuine.

Jamil is a player's manager. For him, his players are an extended part of his family and only his prayers come before them. It would be fair to say that for some of them, he isn't anything less than a father figure.

"He leads a very simple life that’s surrounded around three things — prayers, family and his team. He is very protective about his family and even his players get the same level of protection from him," revealed Picardo.

Khalid Jamil offering prayers during a Mumbai League game between his Mumbai FC side and Central Bank of India in 2016. Image Courtesy: Mumbai FC

Khalid Jamil offering prayers during a Mumbai League game between his Mumbai FC side and Central Bank of India in 2016. Image courtesy: Mumbai FC

"His experience as a player brings him the understanding of what players go through when they win or lose. He always gives full credit to the players for their hard work when they win but takes all the responsibility and backlash when we lose. It is a quality that has impressed me the most. In pressure situations and crucial games, it's very important for us players to have such a manager who takes all the pressure on himself," stated Bheke.

Even when Jamil was unhappy with a certain player, he used to vent out his frustration before his support staff. He made a conscious effort to ensure that it never reached the player. The errors in the system were always rectified but without letting them affect the spirit and harmony in his dressing room.

Hence, despite being at clubs which were unable to pay hefty salaries to his players, Jamil was able to retain several promising young players, who turned down many big offers to just play for him.

"I didn't give a second thought about joining Aizawl FC when Khalid sir approached me. He has helped me a lot throughout my career. I've grown as a player and as a person under him. He gave me the opportunity I needed as a junior player and I'm honoured to be still playing under him as a player," said Ashutosh, who along with Jayesh was convinced about staying at Mumbai FC and "very close" to signing a deal according to Picardo. A phone call from Jamil changed all that in a flash, and rest, as they say, is history.

Jamil's ability to develop a connect with his players, has perhaps kept him involved in the game. A promising playing career as a central midfielder was ravaged by a knee injury.

The injury made Jamil lost his swagger, a place in the national team, and eventually one in his club side. But what stayed with him was the captain's armband where ever he played, be it Mahindra United or Mumbai FC.

"When we were at Mahindra (United), Khalid wasn’t playing for long periods due to an injury, but we still kept him as our captain as he was so good in carrying the team. He used to make the coach’s job easy, sometimes he used to do the job all by himself. He was excellent with the young boys of the team," Arshad Hussain, former Mahindra United and Mumbai FC assistant coach told Firstpost.

The Mahindra United team at that time, during the early years of the 21st century, wasn't devoid of big stars. It had a fair share of Indian and international players. There were quite a few youngsters in the team as well who were being blooded to eventually replace the existing stars. But Jamil's word was supreme. He had the respect of the entire squad, especially the younger players, as he was the glue between the senior and the junior players.

"I remember at Mahindra we had given out bonuses to the players. But it was only for top 18 players, and we had a squad of 27. The rest were young players, some junior boys. But Khalid took a bit of the bonuses from all those 18 players and distributed among the entire squad. It was a great team building exercise from him that time," disclosed Hussain who also revealed how Jamil also spent from his own pocket to buy the best quality shoes for the younger players of the team.

"Khalid was a great leader. I never remember him having any selfish intentions. Whatever money he used to get, he used to give it to all the players. Even the money he got from Man of the Match awards, he used to distribute among all team members," revealed Dias who was then a youngster at Mahindra United under Jamil's captaincy.

Understanding his ability to galvanise a group of younger players, Jamil was entrusted with the coaching job of Mumbai FC's U-19 team. As expected, he did a great job with the youngsters leading that team to the Super Division title in the Mumbai Football League, before guiding them to victory in the west-zone of the national league.

Soon after the resignation of David Booth, the first Mumbai FC manager, Khalid was given the reigns of the senior team. What followed was seven years of stability as Jamil always managed to keep Mumbai FC in the I-League, despite being given a very low budget to build the team.

Khalid Jamil congratulates his Mumbai FC players after their 2-0 win over Bengaluru FC in the 2016 I-League. Image Courtesy: Mumbai FC

Khalid Jamil congratulates his Mumbai FC players after their 2-0 win over Bengaluru FC in the 2016 I-League. Image courtesy: Mumbai FC

Bimal Ghosh who coached Jamil for three years from 1993 to 1996 called him the "most hard-working and disciplined player" he has ever coached, and even as a coach, nothing's changed on that front.

"Khalid is very regular. He's very sincere to his job. When he calls his players (for training) at 8 am, he will be there on the ground at 7. This is something very few coaches follow these days," divulged Arshad Hussain, the man who coaxed him to get his first coaching license.

When Jamil was sacked by Mumbai FC, few saw it as a decision that potentially had disastrous effects. In fact, many felt it was a step in the right direction for Mumbai FC, and a start to a new and a more prosperous era for the club.

As it turned out, Mumbai FC were relegated, while Khalid Jamil became the champion. There were two clubs that did his reputation a world of good last season. The one he inherited and the other that he left behind. Jamil, and his absence, became the most important talking points at the two ends of the table.

"When Khalid was at Mumbai FC he perhaps didn’t have the belief in himself. He never went out of Mumbai even as a player. But now that he has gone out of Mumbai and succeeded, one can see the self-belief," summed up Picardo.

Aizawl were hailed as the 'Leicester City' of Indian football, and Jamil its 'Claudio Ranieri'. It was a quick transition from being the 'Tony Pulis' of the league, for the long throw-ins that his Mumbai FC side used to great effect or for that matter from being the 'Sam Allardyce' for his serial relegation escapades. Today, as he attempts to do a double by winning the Federation Cup, it wouldn't be far when he will be called the 'Antonio Conte' of the league, especially looking at the similarity in the way Khalid and Conte carry themselves on the touchline.

There is no end to the comparisons, and there is no end to whom people compare him with. At the end of the day, all of them are a far stretch from reality. What's real though, is the compelling and affectionate leader within him, who shies away from all the limelight and prefers to dwells behind a cold demeanour.


Published Date: May 06, 2017 07:51 am | Updated Date: May 06, 2017 05:23 pm

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