A new city, a new team, a newer club yet a much more popular one; one that has fans throng to the stadiums to catch their team in action and there was a switch from the financial capital to arguably, the football capital. A lot had changed for Khalid Jamil, making a move from Mumbai FC, whom he had parted ways with last season, to the last season’s second from bottom side Aizawl FC.

Aizawl FC, a club formed back in 1984 was formed with the aim of providing education and sports training to the lesser fortunate in the state of Mizoram while participating in a few amateur tournaments till 2012 from where things turned for the Mizoram-based team.

A new ownership, certification from AIFF to play in the second division, and a new ownership with a strong financial backing; things were looking up for the side. Though they had to wait for their chance to ply trade in the top tier, their efforts were rewarded after four years when Aizawl won the 2nd Division I-League to earn promotion.

Fans at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl

Having gone a stair up on the ladder, Aizawl decided to bring in former Real Valladolid B side coach Manuel Retamero Fraile from Spain. In his very first task, the Spaniard was expected to win the Mizoram Premier League, which he successfully did before carrying the baton forward in the I-League.

The Spaniard though imbibed an attacking, passing style of play in the young though exciting side, he failed to produce results and lasted only half a season. Under his tutelage, Aizawl could win just one game out of six, drawing another while losing four of their clashes.

Clearly different from the stats, his style of play was impressive that saw Aizawl dominate the likes of Mohun Bagan but unfortunately, results call the shots and that is what happened with the Spaniard.

Jahar Das replaced him and the playing style though was more conservative, helped them get better results winning five, drawing five and losing just five of their 15 games. But this did not warrant him a position for the following year and with Aizawl in search for a new manager, the hierarchy surprisingly decided on Khalid Jamil, a man who was known to play the exact opposite style of play the Aizawl side played.

Working with a very different set of players, Jamil wanted to add three of his go-to men to have the “Khalid Jamil” stamp on the team. In came Jayesh Rane, Ashutosh Mehta and Albino Gomes to bolster the side and add the Jamil flavor to the side. But would that mean, playing deep yet again and grinding out results?

Jamil in his stint for Mumbai FC earned the reputation of playing deep and compact in defence, not allowing the other sides space to play football and hence, score goals. A lot of Mumbai FC’s points came in the form of 0-0 draws or 1-0 wins. But having said that, the fact that they denied the biggest of teams from getting desired results against them calls for some plaudits. It was expected to be the same this season.

So when the season began, the first game saw Trevor Morgan managed East Bengal take on Aizawl, the Englishman prepared his side to play against a defensive unit and get their campaign on a high. But what followed was the unexpected. Aizawl FC played free flowing, attacking football and caused one trouble too many for the Red and Golds, even leading them till late on in the game and finished the game as the better side.

So was this Jamil’s new, surprise tactics or was this to suit the kind of players he had? Going back to his Mumbai FC days, if one digs deeper, Jamil never had the creative, fast moving players in his side and even his foreigners were veterans who were not the quickest anymore but could play some decent ball.

Now the question that arises: is it the coach who selects the team? But then, there are several restrictions for the coach in terms of the budgets, player availability, etc. After analysing the situation, one can state that Jamil did really well despite not having any brilliant players in his side and produced the results with limited resources at hand. Mumbai FC consistently managed mid-table finishes over teams that had higher budgets than them and the credit to an extent should go to Jamil who realised his shortcomings and worked with them to the team’s advantage.

Jamil made the move to Aizawl having parted ways with Mumbai FC after the end of last season, carrying the tag of a defensive coach but in search of making a statement of intent and washing away the tag. And what better team than Aizawl who had players all over the pitch adept at playing the pass and move style, providing for Jamil to set his team up around it.

This is the very reason Jamil decided to get the likes of Rane and Ashutosh who can play that kind of football and the young keeper Albino Gomes who is not just potent at shot stopping but can also distribute the ball.

In his one of the early interviews after making the switch, this is what Jamil was quoted as saying: “Strategy is not just about the coach. It’s also about the players we have, the kind of opponents we are facing, whether we are playing at home or away. I have adapted my coaching style to whatever situation I faced, and I certainly haven’t been all about defence.”

Having caught East Bengal napping with his attacking and mobile style of play, Jamil continued the same in the games against Minerva and Shillong Lajong, beating the two and making a strong statement.

A stark difference between Jamil’s Mumbai FC and Jamil’s Aizawl FC is the way the latter played in their recent away game against Chennai City FC. A previous Jamil side may have sat back and looked to score on a counter or even be content with a draw, but not this side. They played attacking football from the start and though defensive solidity is also an important aspect of Jamil’s side, especially while playing away, it did not deter them from playing their natural, free flowing football. The team went down 0-2, but do not expect similar results as the season progresses.

The team that finished second from bottom last season looks to be on a good run and with a seasoned coach in Jamil who is also eager to make a statement, are in safe hands to get the kind of results they would want.

The refreshing change about Aizawl specifically this season would be the fact that there is more than one approach with Jamil, setting up his side knowing to defend and when the situation calls for them to play their natural game, causing trouble to the best of teams.

They do not look like title contenders but who knows with a couple of results here and there, they might be chasing a place in the top three under Jamil.