Khalid Jamil was touted as The Pied Piper who would lead East Bengal to national glory just as he guided Aizawl FC the previous season. The 14-year-long quest to conquer India has turned into an obsession for the management as well as for the millions of Red and Gold fans. Jamil was brought in to put an end to their frustration.
East Bengal continued their supremacy in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) winning it for the 39th time, but Jamil knew that his 'mission East Bengal' was all about the I-League. He had a bumpy start to the campaign after surrendering a two-goal lead to Aizawl in the maiden fixture and then going down to Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata derby.
Two games into the season and East Bengal were already stuttering in their bid to land the coveted I-League trophy. Alarms bells started ringing once again in Kolkata and former East Bengal veterans started to raise 'a thousand questions' on Jamil's tactics and team selection. But the soft-spoken Kuwait-born preferred to do the talking on the pitch by trouncing Shillong Lajong 5-1 at the Barasat Stadium and further went on to register wins against Churchill Brothers, Chennai City and Gokulam Kerala to occupy pole position. But even when they were reigning supreme East Bengal looked shaky and the Super Cup final was a testament to it.
Khalid Jamil's defensive approach costing dearly
The goals had started to dry up after the 5-1 thumping and each of the aforementioned wins were by a slender one-goal advantage against teams who finished at the bottom half of the league table at the end of the season. After a smooth run against relatively weaker oppositions Jamil's men stumbled as soon as they were up against a formidable NEROCA side.
Katsumi Yusa put his team in front on the 13th minute and as the game progressed East Bengal's performance dropped. Instead of trying to get an insurance goal, Jamil chose to shut shop. Raikhan sensed blood and opted to shift to a back-three throwing in Ronald Singh and Nedo Turkovic to sharpen their attacking edge. Turkovic scored a stunner from outside the box to level things up at the dying minutes to leave Jamil red-faced.
East Bengal then managed a 2-0 victory against Indian Arrows. But their performance would dip again against a resurgent Churchill and then to Aizawl. Even after starting on the driver's seat against NEROCA, Churchill and Aizawl, Jamil failed to inspire his men to pick up three points from these fixtures. The tendency to fall back and defend when a killer blow was the need of the hour, cost the Kolkata powerhouse valuable points throughout the season. Hence, Jamil's reputation as a defensive coach once again came to the fore.
Diagnosed the ailment, but failed to cure
When William Lalnunfela netted on the 94th minute in the league opener, Jamil blamed 'lack of concentration' on the part of his defenders during the closing stages. But the ailment had not been cured even during the last lap of the league. East Bengal threw away the championship in Coimbatore when Gokulam Kerala scored the winner just three minutes from injury time, courtesy an own goal by Salam Ranjan Singh.
Minerva's loss to Chennai City once again opened the door to silverware but East Bengal's malaise of conceding just before the closure of a half or a match had not healed. Even in their last game against NEROCA the defence was caught napping and Felix Chidih calmly slotted it past Ubaid C.K. again three minutes from half-time whistle.
Failure to churn out a winning combination
Khalid Jamil made as many as six changes from the side that drew 2-2 against Shillong Lajong in their league finale against NEROCA. It was only once during the entire campaign that Jamil stuck to a starting XI in consecutive matches. His whimsical changes hindered the development of a robust understanding among the players. After every defeat, he rang in the changes as if that would help them return to winning ways. After the two derby losses he made five changes in the following match.
His head-strong decision to stick to Willis Plaza, in spite of the Trinidadian's shambolic performance in front of the goal is beyond reasonable understanding. Lack of co-ordination between midfield and attack has plagued East Bengal this season. At times, they had to hang on, and on some occssions they were fortunate when Md. Rafique and Cavin Lobo bailed out the team with long-range efforts.
Fall out with Bhattacharya and Bhowmick
The former Mumbai FC coach should have picked his battles more wisely. Monoranjan Bhattacharya and Subhash Bhowmick are the stalwarts of East Bengal and their contribution to Red and Gold history remains unparalled. Yes, he is the head coach and he should dictate the terms in the dressing room and on the pitch. But it was unnecessary to sideline and ignore Bhattacharya at the beginning of the season. Recently, his feud with Bhowmick reached a crescendo where once again the team suffered the most. By virtue of his designation Jamil can brush away their suggestions but an amicable partnership from the start of the season first with Manoranjan and later with Bhowmick would not have harmed the team.
The ASEAN Cup winning coach alleged that Jamil did not allow him to attend team meeting before the Super Cup final. If this incident had actually occured it must be strictly condemned. As a technical director, Bhowick has every right to attend and provide inputs which he deems will benefit the team.
"(If there is) one coach on the ground, then there is no problem. But if there are two coaches and they discuss and fight (with) each other, then it (becomes a) problem for the player," said Katsumi Yusa to the media before the team left for Bhubaneswar. If the duo had paid heed to the words and forged an understanding between themselves, things might have panned out differently against Bengaluru in the Super Cup final.