NorthEast United are nearly there and Khalid Jamil is close to a achieving quite a feat…
Indian Super League (ISL) club NorthEast United were winless in six matches when coach Khalid Jamil took over the squad as the interim head coach. The Guwahati-based club is now unbeaten in eight games, which includes five wins and three draws.
The team is now only a point away from booking a place in the playoffs for only the second time in its history. The win has taken their tally to 30 points and they now require a point against Kerala Blasters to seal their spot in the play-offs.
Khalid Jamil deserves credit for turning NorthEast United’s season around, especially as he was initially relieved of first-team duties when Gerard Nus was the head coach and had to exit the bio-bubble. After Nus was sacked, the club turned to the familiar face to pull off a rescue mission and his work has been remarkable since. And none of this is really surprising.
Jamil was the head coach when Aizawl scripted a fairytale I-League title victory back in 2017. And that team beat the likes of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan to clinch the title following a nail-biting end to the season.
Aizawl were the clear underdogs back then and Jamil, the man of few words, pulled off what some may have tagged as an impossible task. The current situation at NorthEast, a club with a limited budget to spend and competing against heavyweights ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City, might not be too dissimilar but what Jamil achieved at Aizawl was far tougher than what he is doing now.
What he did with Aizawl is often underrated, given that the Mizoram-based club were competing against I-League teams which had the best Indian players (national team players) at the time apart from some quality foreign recruits. The feat came with clubs like Bengaluru FC, East Bengal struggling, and Mohun Bagan pipped to the finishing line by Aizawl who did not have any star players.
The I-League team also had several exciting young Indian talents who have gone on to be successful in the ISL. Jamil coaches the likes of Ashutosh Mehta (NorthEast United), Albino Gomes (Kerala Blasters), Jayesh Rane (ATK Mohun Bagan) and Lalruatthara (Kerala Blasters) during the incredible season and brought out the best in each player from his squad.
At NorthEast, he has multiple foreign talents at his disposal as well. Luis Machado has been tricky to deal with for defenders, Federico Gallego can break any defence and Deshorn Brown has been lethal in front of goal. More importantly, he has breathed confidence into Brown, a player who looked shorn of it at Bengaluru FC, and make him look lethal once more.
Jamil’s experience of managing talented Indian players also has been of use as NorthEast currently has two hot U-21 prospects in Lalengmawia and Ninthoi Meetei in their squad, and the former has been extremely impressive in the midfield.
Khalid Jamil’s credentials were never in question and hence, the way he has managed to push NorthEast close to the playoffs isn’t surprising for long term admirers of Indian football. While he lacked support at some of his previous clubs, he seems to have that support with the Highlanders.
However, football is cruel sometimes and being an Indian coach, whether NorthEast actually get to the playoffs by avoiding defeat in their final game will be a crucial event that will influence the former Aizawl head coach’s report card.