Very few can match Khalid Jamil’s achievements in Indian football. He’s an I-League champion, has managed clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and kept a team with the lowest budget in the top division for six straight years.
Even in the ISL, which didn’t deem him good enough to be a head coach of one of its franchises for seven years, it took him just one sudden, almost interim spell to show his true worth.
After taking charge of a NorthEast United team that was winless in seven matches, Jamil has guided them to the semi-finals after a ten-match unbeaten streak.
What makes the feat even more special is that it was achieved at a club that has almost no history of success in the ISL. NorthEast United had just one semi-final appearance in the first six seasons and have finished bottom of the pile in three of those campaigns. But it took just a month for Jamil to turn perennial underachievers into title hopefuls.
The achievement is a first for an Indian coach in the ISL but not for Jamil who has worked a few miracles in his career already. His teams may not have been the most pleasing on the eye but they’ve always been effective. NorthEast United have proved to be no different.
So what works for Khalid Jamil?
When you ask Jamil the reason for his success, he gladly points to his players. On Friday, when NorthEast United qualified for the semi-finals, he did the same. He is a players’ coach and their bond is a big reason for the team producing good performances.
“His player management skills are second to none,” Paresh Shivalkar, former Mumbai FC midfielder who played under Jamil for three years told Scroll.in.
“He knows his Indian players and their skillsets very well and has a knack for bringing out the very best in them. If you see his teams over the years, it’s these Indian players that have got him the results,” he added.
At NorthEast United, several Indian players have upped their game since Jamil’s arrival. He trusted Imran Khan to replace the injured Federico Gallego’s and the youngster has handsomely repaid his coach’s faith. The likes of Suhair and Lalengmawia have also chipped in with important goals.
Jamil’s way of handling his players is slightly unique. He likes to have a more personal touch with his coaching. Unlike other coaches who deliver instructions to the players in a group, Jamil conducts individual meetings with his players.
“He likes to have one-on-one meetings with his players. He will drill into you what he expects from you, how he wants you to play against a particular player. He’ll show clips, charts and whatnot but he’ll make sure he has got his points across. At times, these meetings can go on for hours,” Darren Caldeira, former Bengaluru FC midfielder who played under Jamil at Mumbai FC told Scroll.in.
“He prefers to talk to his players individually. Even if he conducts a meeting with a group it would be with a similar set of players like just the midfielders or only the defenders,” he added.
The reason behind holding individual meets is that Jamil wants to communicate different messages to different players and it isn’t always restricted to tactical inputs.
“Khalid once made me watch my free-kick that I had scored in one of the previous matches over and over again. He told me that only special players are capable of scoring such goals and he counts on me to produce magic on the field. I was very encouraged by how highly he thought of me. It gave me instant belief,” Shivalkar said.
This humane touch of Jamil off the pitch ensures the players give their everything on it.
Defence a priority, not the approach
As far as his tactical side is concerned, defensive stability has always been the pillar of his team. A lot of work on the training ground goes into getting the team defensively organised.
“He’s someone who would be fine if his team didn’t score a goal but would be quite upset at every goal his team concedes. He’s someone who wants his team to be built around a strong defence,” Caldeira said.
Jamil’s style demands that his players keep the intensity up in matches. It’s something he makes sure is the case in training as well.
“Khalid is a coach who prefers players who leave everything on the pitch during the game and even in training. He would opt for a player who gives his 100% over a player who has a lot of quality but would only play at 70-80% potential. One thing is clear, he wants fighters on the pitch,” Caldeira said.
However, at NorthEast United, Jamil has shown he can also get the best out of creative players. The likes of Gallego and Luis Machado have excelled under him and NorthEast United have been scoring at a rate of two goals per game since he took charge.
“Khalid has now become an excellent counter-attacking coach. Some of their swift moves are a joy to watch and he’s also got his creative players working hard. So it’s fair to say that he’s evolved his tactics according to the players he has,” Caldeira, who is now an analyst for ISL broadcaster Star Sports, said.
Jamil, though, can be best described as a pragmatic coach. Unlike a few coaches who like to play in a certain way, Jamil likes to tweak his ways according to the opponent.
“Khalid would often change the positions of his players. He would play his number nine in a withdrawn role or his winger would play upfront. He prepares his players to play multiple roles and it makes the team unpredictable,” Shivalkar said.
Another weapon that Jamil has used to his advantage all throughout his career is the set-piece. His teams always carry a threat from dead-ball situations and at Mumbai FC he had trained 2-3 players to take long throw-ins.
“After training, we used to have set-piece training for almost another hour. We used to try all different variations. It was tough, especially for those taking corners and free-kicks as they had to go on and on but it gave us a real edge in the games,” Caldeira said.
Jamil was among few coaches that made his team practice long throw-ins. He was someone who would leave no stone unturned during preparation.
No switching off
Jamil is a 24x7 football manager. For him, there’s no break. At the full-time whistle, his preparation for one game ends and the next one begins. He is always thinking about football, his team, and the next opponents.
“He is someone who is involved in every aspect of training and game preparation. There are some coaches who are mostly managers and leave the training part to the assistants but Khalid is not like that. He has to ensure everything is as he wants it to be. He never switches off,” Caldeira said.
Jamil is the first to reach the training ground and is there at least an hour before it starts. In between training, he will make sure he checks up on his injured players and seeks all details from the medical staff.
Before games when players are warming up, he finds a quiet spot in the stadium where he likes to gather his thoughts. He sits all alone even without his assistants. It may appear that he’s relaxed but in his mind, he’s processing a lot of thoughts.
And when the game begins, Jamil lets it all out. He’s an animated figure on the touchline, shouting instructions to his players and showing every emotion he feels. It’s the only time, the outside world gets to witness the level of his involvement in the team as once the game ends, he turns into a man of few words. His answers to questions from the media are as brief as they can get. He perhaps saves the words for his players.
Jamil has lived up to every challenge in his career so far and at NorthEast United in the ISL he’s simply living up to his reputation. By taking the Highlanders to the semi-finals, he has not just rewritten history but also ensured a bright future for Indian coaches in the ISL.