Indian football: New coach, new opportunity for Adil Khan

Adil Khan, a defensive midfielder, has been recalled to the national camp for the first time since 2012.

Adil Khan (in picture) was pleasantly surprised to find his name in the list of probables for the Kings Cup.

The Indian national football team is in a transition phase. There is a new head coach (Igor Stimac), and a fresh list of probables for the team have been announced for the Kings Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.

There is expected to be a new approach to team-building and player formation, as per Stimac’s line of thinking.

There is now a fresh hope for Indian footballers who had been sidelined by the previous head coach — Stephen Constantine — for reasons best known to him. Adil Khan, the Indian Super League (ISL) player who represents FC Pune City, belongs to this category. Adil has been recalled to the national camp for the first time since 2012.

The 30-year-old, overlooked for the Indian team despite tireless performances as a box-to-box midfielder in the ISL last season, is looking forward to joining the first camp under Stimac. “I had a gut feeling that a call may happen. I was following Igor Stimac and realised that he is more of a defensive-oriented coach. I was hoping my name would be in that list. When it happened, I was surprised, to be honest,” Adil said.

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Versatile on the football pitch, Adil has been switched from defence to perform the role of a defensive midfielder. He has also scored stunning goals when given freedom by the team’s head coach to join the counter-attack. What is the role he is expected to perform by Stimac at the preparatory camp? Adil replied, “I don’t know. I will need time to understand what the coach wants. Everything is new now; new coach, new thinking. I will join the camp and take it up from there.”

‘Coach’s choice’

Adil doesn’t know why he was axed from the team by Constantine, whose contract with the Indian team expired after the AFC Asian Cup 2019 in the UAE. “I was under the impression that he wanted to try out younger players. The coach had watched games when I played for Churchill Brothers in the defence and later after signing for Pune City, he was aware of my performances as per the team needs, in different positions. Selection is the coach’s choice. I did not get an opportunity then, now the opportunity has come,” Adil said.

Adjusting to different playing systems under different coaches has been routine for Adil from the time he made a mark with Sesa academy in Goa and moved to Sporting Clube de Goa. Which coach brought out the best in him? “I don’t have any favourite coach. Phil Brown, Ranko Popovic, Derrick Pereira understood each player’s strong point and what he could bring to the team,” Adil replied.

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While Brown and Popovic coached FC Pune City, Pereira was in charge at Churchill.

In the ISL and I-League, Adil has also turned out for Mohun Bagan (in 2013), Dempo Sports Club (in 2016), and Delhi Dynamos (in 2014).

Igor Stimac (in picture) has replaced Stephen Constantine as the head coach of the Indian team. Photo: AFP


Adil flourished as a box-to-box midfielder under Popovic at Pune City. “Popovic gave us the freedom to join the attack; he assigned specific roles after assessing each player’s strengths. Brown also had a similar view,” Adil reflected.

“Derrick knew how to get the best out of players [at Churchill Brothers],” he said.

Learning experience

The time spent under Kareem Bencherifa, a Moroccan coach at Mohun Bagan, was an education. “I had issues with the coach, he expected me to play a different role. I could not execute his plan. I was not fit, had recovered from illness and could not match the other players, he did not like it. I learnt under Kareem about the role expected from an attacking midfielder,” Adil said.

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Adil lost two years due to injury and came back into the mainstream the hard way.

The Kings Cup 2019 is the first competition for the Indian team after AFC Asian Cup, a tourney the team performed well in, earning appreciation for bold displays against Thailand, UAE and Bahrain in the group stage.

“I watched every match and wished I was in that squad,” Adil said, pointing out that Indians are showing in the ISL they can match any foreigner when it comes to team contribution.

“Earlier, Indians made up the numbers in ISL, now coaches realise we can deliver,” he said.

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