CHENNAI: What a turnaround six months can make! From being dumped by Mumbai FC after six years of hard work to clinching the I-League with relatively-unknown Aizawl FC to becoming the highest-paid manager in Indian football history, Khalid Jamil has seen everything.
On Wednesday, he was announced as new East Bengal coach, as a long courtship finally concluded. From going after him in 2002 while he was a player to chasing him since the league was decided this year, EB finally got their man. “I didn’t want to leave Aizawl. It was like a family. But East Bengal were persuasive, and I felt it was right for my career,” Jamil told Express.
According to reports, he’ll be paid Rs 1.25 crore this season. The entire budget for Aizawl last season was allegedly Rs 1.5 crore. But money was not a factor. “I’ve always played for smaller clubs. Money was never an issue. I would not have stayed with Mumbai for six seasons if that was the case. The culture and heritage of the club, and its fans played a huge role in my decision.”
Many successful players and coaches have come to Kolkata before, but the unforgiving cauldron of pressure has led to them leave empty-handed. East Bengal are known to be harsh when it comes to giving coaches the boot. Being an I-League-winning coach has also added to that burden, but Khalid is confident.
“I enjoy pressure, as it keeps me motivated. Both our aims are the same, and I want to help them win their maiden I-League crown,” the former player said.
His first assignment is the Calcutta Football League, a title the club has won for seven consecutive seasons. Jamil is in no mood to give up that hold. Recruitment has started in earnest, as EB have already signed up four members of Aizawl’s title-winning squad — Brandon Vanlalremdika, Mahmoud Al Amna, Lalramchullova and Kingsley Eze. More are on the radar. “These players were exceptional last season, and want a bigger challenge. I’ve held talks with officials about further signings. Hopefully after pre-season, things will have taken shape.”
There are concerns regarding direction of Indian football. While the Indian Super League is set to become the country’s top-tier league, Bengaluru FC’s shift to the ISL has also weakened the I-League. The upcoming player draft will see many leave for the top league, but Jamil hopes for things to sort themselves out soon. “With time, this confusion will clear. All parties need to have patience. As far as I-League’s quality is concerned, we’ll see many new faces, as well as quality players, from the Kolkata giants and North East. The league will definitely be competitive, as now all clubs will think they’re in with a shout,” Jamil added.
Any discussion with Jamil leads to last season’s fairytale, and he admits he enjoys relieving those moments. “There are a few things that happen once in a lifetime. I believe Aizawl’s triumph is a one-off. Everything fell into place. From backroom staff giving their all to players playing their hearts out. The fans were immense too, as all home games were almost house-full. I wish the entire team all the best for the coming season,” he signed off.