A man for milestones, Khalid Jamil aims to impress as Hero ISL’s first Indian head coach

NorthEast United FC had been winless in the last 6 games, as they lined up against Bengaluru FC with immense pressure on them, after making a decent start to the 2020-21 season. The Highlanders sat at 7th position in the league table, while their opponents ranked just above them in the 6th spot.

The match kicked off at the Tilak Maidan Stadium, Goa, with NorthEast United FC taking the lead around the half an hour mark by virtue of Luís Machado’s calm finish. But the Blues equalised in the 49th minute courtesy of Rahul Bheke’s strike from distance. The match ended in 1-1 draw, much to the despair of both sets of fans.

It seemed like the fresh light of energy, optimism and belief in the beginning of the season had given way to the cloud of negativity and doubt. The target of securing a semi-final spot was now almost a next to impossible task. And not many could have anticipated what came next.

The next day, Northeast United FC’s manager Gerard Nus was sacked and Khalid Jamil was made incharge for the rest of the season. The club stated a difference in philosophy to be the reason behind the sacking.

Enter the stage, Khalid Jamil, who was on a mission to save the sinking ship. And save he did! The highlanders won the next three matches against Jamshedpur FC, ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC, out of them two were title favourites. The mood inside the camp as well as among the fans changed. But there was still a long way to go.

Unafraid and unfazed were the men in white, who went up against Kerala Blasters FC in the final game of the league stage. The scenario was such that a draw would have been enough to qualify. But Khalid Jamil’s men didn’t play for a draw. They marched to the field with their heads held high and scored two goals in the first half to defeat the yellow army.

A streak of 8 games unbeaten saw the Highlanders finish 3rd in the league stage. Now, a daunting challenge awaited them against a strong ATK Mohun Bagan side. Khalid Jamil’s Northeast United FC pulled off a late goal to register a draw in the first leg. In the second leg, however, his team found itself two goals behind with around twenty minutes to play. The highlanders got one back but, unlike the first leg, they couldn’t get the equaliser.

The extraordinary escapade by Khalid Jamil got everyone talking about the ability of Indian coaches to manage teams successfully on the big stage. From signing as an assistant coach back in 2019 to achieving the unexpected, he has come a long way at the biggest stage in India. 

And mind it, this was not the first time Khalid Jamil defied odds and delivered success to the fans. In the 2017 I-League, he was the head coach of Aizawl FC. Going into the last matchday, the club from Mizoram was sitting on the top of the league, with Mohun Bagan three points adrift. The Mariners had won their match. The onus was on Aizawl FC to get something out of the game. Eventually, a draw against Shillong Lajong sealed the title for Khalid Jamil and his men.

A year later he signed for East Bengal for a record breaking deal of ₹1.25 crore, which had made him the then highest paid Indian coach in the history of the I-League. A year and half later he joined Mohun Bagan.

Khalid began his managerial career with Mumbai FC in the 2009 I-League. He spent the next five seasons with them, in which they mostly finished in the mid-table. After which, he moved to Aizawl FC.

As a player, Khalid Jamil has several honours to his name. He began his professional career at Mahindra United FC in 1997 and moved to Air India, a year later. He won the 2001 Durand Cup with them, following which, he came back to Mahindra United FC.

During his second stint with the Mumbai-based club, he won the 2005-06 National Football League, 2003 and 2005 Federation Cup, and 2006 IFA Shield. Internationally, Khalid made eleven appearances for the Blue Tigers.

The Kuwait-born coach has had an influential journey till now but he would agree that he still has a lot of stairs to climb. The responsibility of leading NorthEast United FC in the upcoming 2021-22 season is only going to add to his illustrious career. Still just 44 years of age, some might say the best is yet to come.

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