Once teacher and student, Derrick Pereira and Khalid Jamil make history as equals

Even if it doesn’t seem long ago, it has been 17 years since Khalid Jamil and Derrick Pereira were in the same dressing room. It was at Mahindra United in 2005 when Pereira, now head coach of FC Goa, inherited the star-studded squad as a reward for his stellar work with Vasco SC. This included Jamil - then a combative and crafty midfielder; now a combative and crafty head coach in charge of NorthEast United. Football is odd that way: one day you are stumbling through the streets as companions for the same cause and the other, you are daring each other from the touchline, hatching schemes in different team meetings.

When they faced off in the Hero ISL on 14 January, it was the first instance of two permanent Indian head coaches prowling their areas in pride, sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw. Just days after Renedy Singh impressed as interim head coach of SC East Bengal, this has been a watershed week in the Hero ISL’s mission to develop Indian football, and that includes the coaching staff.

It is unfortunate that Jamil was returning from a complicated knee injury by the time Pereira had taken over at Mahindra United, but he might still have played an important role in shaping the tactical demands that the Highlanders’ head coach continues to ask from his team. During the two years that Jamil and Pereira shared a dressing room, one was listening while the other was plotting.

“Pereira always preferred a back four even though he isn’t married to the formation given that he has stuck to a back three with FC Goa. He always wanted his teams to be defensively tight, maintain a compact shape, and show commitment and desire and bravery. He wanted you to win those 50-50s,” says Darren Caldeira, who was part of that Mahindra United dressing room as a youngster coming through the ranks, and also played under Jamil at Mumbai FC. He recalls how Pereira would involve himself in some training matches, and the former defender would not hold back in his endeavour to win the ball. Jamil has also never wavered from his preference of a back-four. The central tenet of his system is exactly what Pereira demanded of him once upon a time: fight for everything on the pitch, put your body on the line, give your all.

But he has evolved in other ways. Jamil, or Khalid bhai as he is fondly known in the football circle, was quite often the life of the dressing room as a player. He was quirky, not signing a contract once because he didn’t like the pen. He was a prankster, and on the pitch, he wanted as much of the ball as possible. As a head coach, he is unassuming, never ready to take credit, and shies away from the spotlight. He is serious, he is disciplined and he has a methodology players must buy into to succeed.  In interviews, he relies on his learned jargon: “the team needs to concentrate, focus, and work hard.” Turn the camera away, and he could play mind games from the bench. In person, in less formal situations, he doesn’t glare, he seems genuinely concerned and interested: just like when he put his arm around young winger Rocharzela as he came off injured.

Pereira has had to evolve as well. From a more direct compact system, he has now been at a club for five years where the template is attractive possession-based football. The focus is on technical players, those who can find the tight spaces and exploit them. He has only just returned to being head coach of a senior team.

But when both the coaches were put in opposing technical areas on Friday night, you could see shades of the old and new versions. Jamil pointing and reminiscing and taking another injury to his striker Deshorn Brown on the chin with a stoic face, not relenting to the pressure, not showing how much it actually matters. Pereira his usual approachable self, but letting his emotions escape more than a few times: cries of help to the open sky to provide divine help for his attackers Jorge Ortiz and Airam Cabrera, deep conversations with his confidante Clifford Miranda, probably secretly hoping he could set up a defensive low block. But no, Indian football and it’s hopes have changed, and so have Pereira and Jamil. Ideas are new and modern and only the fittest survive.

At the end of the game, caught in animated conversation, they came together to talk, almost unaware that everyone was watching, both probably worried more about two points dropped rather than the history they were making.

But ask them after a few years what this day meant, and they will know how much those few seconds of togetherness from a pair who have made it to the top in their careers can inspire. How much two Hero ISL clubs under the tutelage of two Indian head coaches can breed hope. A teacher and a student, in a frame, as equal. This is what it’s all about. Ask them, and they will know.

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