Khalid Jamil has played a huge role in constituting this side and it shows in the results…
“The players deserved this.”
This has been Khalid Jamil’s answer whenever he is asked about his team’s change of fortunes since he took over the reins at NorthEast United from Gerard Nus.
Apart from January signing Deshorn Brown, the rest of the lineup has more or less remained the same under both Nus and Jamil. But there has been a remarkable difference in mentality on the pitch and that attitude helped them turn their season around and qualify for the playoffs.
The Highlanders were once seven matches without a win and that was the club decided to sack Nus. They turned to Jamil, who was initially asked to leave the first team in Goa to focus on the club’s youth development programme.
Jamil has been with the club since last season and played a key role in assembling this season’s squad. In fact, he handpicked several key signings for the season and was familiar with the strengths and weaknesses, especially the Indian players. He put the Indian contingent together in the off-season and in many ways, it could be said that this NorthEast side is a proper Khalid Jamil team.
When a coach is asked to put together a squad, he usually has a proper strategy in place to make them tick. If you were surprised by how the team suddenly looked better and well-gelled, don’t be, because Jamil was no stranger to this side.
Since taking charge following a 1-1 draw against Bengaluru, Jamil had led his team to the ISL playoffs by going nine games without a single defeat. As icing on the cake, they have also managed to finish third, two points and a spot above FC Goa.
Players like Lalengmawia, Ashutosh Mehta, VP Suhair and even Imran Khan have been a revelation on the pitch under Jamil. Managing Indian talents has never been an issue for the former Aizawl head coach. But to his credit, he has boosted the confidence of some of the team’s foreign players as well.
Khassa Camara has been the standout performer in midfield. Federico Gallego has threatened in the final third but he has also been used cleverly by Jamil. Luis Machado needed freedom to unleash his full potential and that is what he showed towards the business end of the league phase. Brown, who joined from Bengaluru, started scoring goals again with a smile on his face.
Jamil has lifted the mood in the camp and has helped players believe they can actually go all the way. The Highlanders have already completed a double over league stage winners Mumbai City and Jamil had managed to outwit Antonio Habas’ ATK Mohun Bagan with a 2-1 win during his unbeaten run towards the end of the season.
As they prepare to face the Mariners again in the two-legged playoffs, Jamil will be a confident manager.