Khalid Jamil, hurt and humiliated, still in love with East Bengal

Khalid Jamil, who was unceremoniously shown the door as East Bengal coach, broke his silence, for the first time, and spoke about the vicious atmosphere in the Kolkata club.

Khalid Jamil... waiting for right offers.   -  Shayan Acharya

Around this time last year, Khalid Jamil was one of the most sought-after coaches in the Indian football circuit. It was he who had guided the minnow, Aizawl FC, to I-League victory in its very first season after coming from relegation. Every big club was ready to splurge for the coach, who had scripted history with a rookie side.

But Kolkata giant, East Bengal, snapped up the Mumbai-based Jamil as its coach. After early success, the association failed to bear fruit and Jamil fell out of favour. Things worsened after veteran Subhash Bhowmick was appointed as the technical director and eventually called the shots.

With the side failing to break its I-League jinx, Jamil was unceremoniously shown the door. And now, as most of the teams gear up for a long season, Jamil finds himself in the middle of nowhere. “Philhal toh kuchh nahi hai hath mein. (At the moment, I don’t have anything in hand). I am waiting for right offers to come my way. Agar suitable hota hain toh I will move (I will move, if it suits),” Jamil says.

In a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar on Wednesday afternoon, Jamil speaks out on issues, which have so far remained unsaid.

You say that you are looking for the right opportunity. But why does someone, who has guided Aizawl FC to its I-League title, need to struggle so much for a job?

To be honest, I don’t have an answer to that. At the moment all I am looking for is the opportunity. I hope that something comes my way. I am just waiting for the right offer.

You went to East Bengal last year as an I-League winning coach. Do you think that moving to Kolkata was a wrong decision?

I won’t blame anyone. It was my decision and I am responsible for whatever happened. Had I not taken up that offer, I would have, perhaps, repented later. Any coach dreams of working with the Kolkata giants — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. It was my pleasure working with the team and the fans supported me immensely. Had the fans not backed me, I would have returned home right at the beginning because I did not like the environment. I was not feeling comfortable, but the fan support made me stay there.

Not many outstation coaches speak highly of Kolkata’s Maidan culture. And, being in the fraternity for long, you too were aware of it. So, why did you decide to take up the offer in the first place?

Nitu da (East Bengal’s top official, Debabrata Sarkar) spoke to me nicely and assured me of all help. I was impressed by his talk and decided to take up the new challenge. I did not realise that things will turn sour soon.

Had the fans not backed me, I would have returned home right at the beginning because I did not like the environment.

When did things go wrong?

From the first day, my impression about East Bengal took a beating. It was kind of a shock for me. The only people who supported me were the fans and they would give me inputs on how to improve the side. I had developed a soft corner for East Bengal, Ek lagao ho gaya tha. It was a terrible feeling when they did not give me a chance (to prove my mettle). I learnt a lot from there. The die-hard fans would get emotional and I also became a part of that system, so leaving East Bengal was tough. I admit that we could not win the I-League, but we tried till the end. I had a belief that this year I could give the trophy to the club but chance hi nahi mila (but never got a chance). I requested Nitu da to give me one more year, and even waited for their decision. But they never even bothered to get back.

You just spoke about being uncomfortable at East Bengal. Was it also the because the club brought in Subhash Bhowmick as the technical director?

We won the Calcutta Football League. In the Super Cup, Bhowmick came in as a technical director but he did not have much of a role. I spoke to him and Bhowmick told me that he would give guidance if there is a need. He even told this to the media that Khalid’s role is 80 per cent, mine is 20 per cent. I also gave him a space. I, basically, gave him respect as a senior coach but then, while training, I listened to no one.

Everyone knows who did what. The players also knew that. When I did not go to the ground for a few days, they also remained absent. Then there were scuffles between players when I was not around. After taking charge at East Bengal, I called up my family the very second day and told them that I would like to come back because I was not liking the environment. The family discouraged me.

Khalid Jamil with the East Bengal players at a practice session during the 2017-18 I-League season.   -  AIFF Media

What were the things you did not like?

I did not like the way things were being handled at the club. I am not blaming anyone, but this is a fact. I asked for a few players and they were not brought in, citing budget issues. Another thing there is, one cannot have a confidential conversation. You discuss something with the team and in the next minute, everyone would know about it. So, after a while, I confined myself to a room and would spend hours there. From the beginning, I could sense that not all liked me and some of them — I would not take names — would gang up against me and were always looking for reasons to throw me out.

Who were plotting against you?

Unke aapas me chalta tha… There were too many lobbies. They expected me to bow down, but that was against my principle. I would never be close to them, nor even exchange pleasantries. My job was to work with the team and I would only do that. I had two trusted people in Kutty (who looks after the team) and Alvito (D’ Cunha). I am not blaming Nitu da, he gave me a chance, but I could not prove myself.

When Aizawl stepped into the I-League, people had no expectations from the club. You worked silently with the team and helped the team reach the pinnacle. You tried a similar practice at East Bengal, too. Did that strategy go wrong?

When I went to East Bengal for the first time, Nitu da told me that we must take everyone along and work together. I could not do it. There were a few seniors, who expected me to walk up to them, engage in sweet talk and even take suggestions from them at each and every step. I could not do that.

Was that the reason behind the club appointing someone or the other over you as TD or advisors? First it was Manoranjan Bhattacharya and Bhaskar Ganguly. After their exit, came Bhowmick…

I only respected Tushar (Rakshit). He always supported me. I never spoke to Bhaskar. I still remember the first time we met. I told Bhaskar that I needed a few more players and his reaction was stunning. He told me, “Tum pehle Calcutta Football League jito, baaki ka baad me sochna…” (First win the Calcutta Football League and then think of the rest). The message was clear that either you win the CFL or you will be shown the door. I maintained a distance with him thereafter.

Many in East Bengal feel that you were arrogant. Did they mistake your ‘maintaining distance’ as arrogance?

Quite possible. I never wanted to listen to too many people and never blamed anyone for losses. The idea was simple — I make my own decisions, and I am only responsible if things go wrong. I was not successful in the I-League, but we tried. Just like fans love East Bengal, I also fell in love with the club. I could easily come up with excuses, but I did not. I remember, during the I-League, there were meetings when I had to leave the room crying.

Why so?

There was pressure to include or drop a player. I tried protecting my players. I tolerated it all. While travelling also, there were incidents which were insulting, but I took things in my stride.

Do you think that seniors who are often brought in as TDs or advisors, also need to change their approach? Because the game has evolved from their times…

What can I say? They know what’s happening and should realise by themselves. Changes are required. They should have an open frame of mind. That should solve the problem.

There is a belief that the new clubs are doing better than the traditional ones. Where are the old clubs lagging?

They should work under one man. Only a coach should call the shots and there should not be too many people around. More involvement of people leads to more problems. If you don’t listen to Mr A, then Mr B gets angry, and that’s where the problem and ego issues start. That damages the club’s image.

East Bengal has had a terrible outing in the Calcutta Football League this season under Bhowmick. How do you react to that?

It is painful to see East Bengal losing to Mohammedan Sporting. Every match is important and a team like East Bengal should not surrender so meekly.

There were talks that you could join Mohammedan Sporting. Why did the deal not work out?

I had a word with one of the officials and then things moved a bit but after East Bengal lost to Peerless in the CFL, they backtracked and said that the deal is off.

Now, when you look back, do you think that you should not have left Aizawl FC?

I reacted to the situation. After the I-League got over, I waited for them to get the house in order. I told them to retain the players at the earliest — something the club did not do. They kept waiting and delayed the process. I waited for long and then decided to move on. Otherwise, I would not have left. I was happy at Aizawl FC.

There were speculations that you would join as Mumbai City FC’s assistant coach in the ISL. What happened to that?

I had a long chat with Mumbai City FC bosses and they agreed to bring me as an assistant coach, but recently, when I got in touch with them they told me that they have already chosen someone else.

Ever since the ISL has come, how tough has it become for the Indian coaches?

If you do well, you will survive. The prospects are bright for Indian coaches as well. Now that they have made it mandatory to have Indian assistant coaches, things are falling in place. In the next few years, the scene will improve further.

You were also planning to shift to Bangladesh…

Yes, I was planning to take up a job in Bangladesh but later decided against it. The talks went far, and they even waited for me, but then I did not want to leave my country.

Let’s talk about the Indian football team. In the last few years, the expectations have gone up, but do you think that the structure has changed?

As a player, staff, everyone needs to work harder. There is no excuse. The planning needs to be good. There should be more exposure tours for the young footballers — U-15, U-17, U-19. They will only grow that way. The players should get more chances.

When Bengaluru FC came into ISL, the move was criticised by East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. How do you see BFC’s story so far?

They are doing really good, and others must follow them. That will help Indian football grow.

After winning the I-League for Aizawl, you had become immensely popular. But you decided to remain aloof. Has this attitude gone against you?

Now, when I look back, I think it has gone against me. Whenever I am coaching a team, I focus only on the job. There are people who keep back-up plans ready, but I have never done that. May be, that has backfired, but that’s how I am. I can’t change myself. I am happy that way, because I never bow down to anyone. I have never been an ‘Yes Man’, and that I think that has gone against me — be it Mumbai FC or Aizawl. There are officials who would call the coach on the day of the match and force him to include or drop certain players. May be, some listen to them, but I do not entertain such calls. On the match day, I would never take calls from anyone.

Did such a thing happen at East Bengal too?

I told a few East Bengal officials to attend practice for six days and then give their opinions. My idea is simple: if you don’t follow something, stay out of the selection process.

You have been one of the popular coaches for Mumbai FC. So, after East Bengal showed you the door, you were banking on Mumbai FC. But they snubbed you. Did it hurt?

I was hurt, but whatever happens, it is for the good. I believe the doors will open soon. I don’t complain. When offers are not coming my way, it is an indication that I am not working hard enough. I look at it that way.

Whenever I am coaching a team, I focus only on the job.

Without a job, what’s your schedule these days?

I am working hard to improve the footballing skills of my sons. One is 12, the other is 9. I drop them to school and then work with their game in the evening. Their friends also come in, but recently, the kids have told me that I should look for a club and spare them (laughs). I am a tough task master! As a coach, I have to be strict, if I want to get the best out of the players. I don’t like taking chances. I will put in 100 per cent. That’s my habit.

In your long career, what is the biggest achievement? And is there any regret?

I have no big achievement. It’s true that I have guided Aizawl to I-League glory, but I wish to go back to East Bengal for one more time. I want to show them, what I can do. I know it is tough to go back, but then, I have fallen in love with the club.