Making Aizawl as sharp as an awl!

“Coming this far with Aizawl FC is definitely one of the happiest moments in my life. What has worked to my advantage in Aizawl is the quality and determination of the players, especially the ones from Mizoram. They are remarkably hard-working and have genuine passion for football,” says Khalid Jamil, the Aizawl coach.

Coach Khalid Jamil with the victorious Aizawl team.   -  AIFF MEDIA

For Mizoram in general and Aizawl FC in particular Khalid Jamil is nothing less than a wizard. The coach, who moved in from Mumbai FC to take over the reins of the young club in the capital of one of the tiniest states of the country, is responsible for making Aizawl FC dream big. The club, which was resurrected from relegation as a few I-league clubs sought to disband their sides in the changing football scenario, has captured the imagination of fans across the country in making one of the most successful turnarounds in the sport in India.

Speaking to Sportstar, Jamil, in a self-effacing manner, says the success of the team was because of the “hard work” his players have put in and the immense faith of the fans whose passionate support had inspired the team to reach this height.

Question: How has the dressing room atmosphere of Aizawl FC been all through the tournament?

Answer: The players have stayed together and backed each other in an excellent manner. Everyone has put in the hard work in practice and the players have always shown the eagerness to bring out their best. Mentally, the players have shown a different level of keenness and that has contributed in outperforming many of the big names we have played both at home and away.

You have a big stature in Mizoram as the coach who could realise the true potential of the players the state has produced. How do you look at that?

It is a great feeling. People here have given me and the team huge support and that has really worked wonders with the players who always look for a win whenever they are on the ground. This is a fantastic development for a side, which has played so consistently for almost four months to reach this position.

What changes did you make to the side after taking over?

I did not believe in making too many changes as I was dealing with a group of professional players. It is the players who execute the plan that we formulate together before each match. I give credit to my players who have shown the discipline and the talent to give real shape to the concepts of the drawing board. It is a truth that hard work won’t go unrewarded and Aizawl FC’s success points to that.

What is Khalid Jamil’s contribution to Aizawl FC’s success?

I am not a magician who can make things happen at will. I have always said that it is the quality and willingness of the players to live and perform as a team that has brought Aizawl FC this far. The players have shown a different level of understanding and efficiency in turning things around in so little a time. When I took over, Aizawl FC was an unknown entity, but as the tournament progressed we started gaining self-confidence, bettering our performance in each round.

What tactical changes did you make to ensure that the team kept playing consistently?

As it is everywhere, tactics depend on the nature of the opponent we are facing. We kept making variations according to the situation and this is where the class of the players came. It is a matter of pride as a coach that the players showed the skill and the maturity to adapt to different situations.

How did you motivate yourself and the players while turning a completely unknown side into a winning outfit?

I never believe in giving long lectures to players as they know their job as professionals. The players were mentally prepared to do something for the side. Among the outstation players like Ashutosh (Mehta), Jayesh (Rane) and Albino (Gomes) who came with me knew beforehand what kind of task they would have to perform. They have done exceedingly well in adjusting to the conditions as also with the players of Mizoram. The Mizoram players too have shown excellent camaraderie in a bringing about a great team spirit.

Who do you idolise as a coach?

I really do not have any idols when it comes to coaching. I keep watching the matches of the popular European leagues that are telecast in India and appreciate the coaching methods that impress me. I have developed my own coaching philosophy and love to go according to that.

Who has influenced you the most in your coaching career?

Coaching came by chance to me. Nothing was premeditated. I was a senior player with Mumbai FC when the English coach David Booth quit and I was asked to take over the reins of coaching. Coaching came quite unexpectedly to me, but once I decided to get into it, I progressed step by step. I started with the AFC ‘C’ licence and climbed three more rungs to complete the AFC ‘Pro’ licence.

When you took charge of the side, did you think that the team would one day become a title contender?

Frankly, I did not think so at the start and whoever asked me at that time, I told them to have patience and faith in the team. The confidence grew as the team started winning matches.

After coming here from Kuwait and playing as a professional player in Indian clubs and now becoming a professional coach, how do you assess Indian football?

Indian football has improved a lot over the years. There are a lot of areas where it is lacking, but if you look at the way it is improving, there are a lot of positives. The current Indian coach, Stephen Constantine, is doing really well in making India play more matches using the international friendly windows in the FIFA calendar. The more India plays and wins the better it is for the development of football. India gaining the 101st spot in the World rankings is a true reflection of the fact that the team is moving in the right direction. It is a very good sign and everyone should focus on improving on it.

You coached Mumbai FC without much success before coming to Aizawl. What is the difference between the two assignments?

Coming this far with Aizawl FC is definitely one of the happiest moments in my life. There is not much of a difference in the structure of the two clubs, but what has worked to my advantage in Aizawl is the quality and determination of the players, especially the ones from Mizoram. They are remarkably hard-working and have genuine passion for football. This is the very reason why players from Mizoram are dominating Indian football. This state has a brilliant football culture and that has contributed a lot in bringing out a host of outstanding players, who are going to be the future of Indian football.

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