It’s been a few days since Mumbai FC’s season ended, on a bitter-sweet note, but Khalid Jamil hasn’t had time to put his feet up yet. “That’s the difference between being a player and a coach,” the 33-year-old says.
“When I was a player, I used to train, play matches and then go home and switch off. Now I find myself obsessing about the game 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Jamil was the youngest coach, by some distance, in the just-concluded I-League and, in his first season in charge of the senior team, did well to keep the side up in a relegation battle that went right down to the final day.
That was the high. A couple of days later, they went down to Air-India in the final of the Mumbai Football League (MFL) on the last day. It was just the kind of see-saw week that mirrored Jamil’s career itself. Jamil also guided the under-19 Mumbai FC side to the MFL title last season.
Born and brought up in football-crazy Kuwait, Jamil moved to India when the Gulf War broke out. His early footballing lessons involved an under-14 camp run by French World Cupper Manuel Amoros, during which he also spent a few minutes with the legendary Michel Platini.
His performances at the University level marked him out as a special talent. By the time he joined Air-India, in 1999, he was touted as one of the future stars of Indian football.
In his story, it was a twist in the knee that provided the twist in the tale. “It was in 2004,” he says, the memory still vivid. “I was playing for India in Malaysia when I felt a jerk. The pain was unbearable, but I carried on.”
Scans revealed a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on his right knee. “It wasn’t so serious if I had received the right medical advice. I should’ve undergone surgery then, but instead kept taking pain-killers and playing. As a result, my left knee gave way too.”
A couple of dozen games for India, two broken knees, one shattered dream. “I finally underwent surgery only in 2008,” he says, and quickly switches to his coaching avatar: “That’s one thing I’d never do to any of my players. I’d never ask them to play through injuries. That’s one thing I’ve learnt.”
He played for Mumbai FC in their first season, where they finished sixth in the I-League in the 2009 season. With injuries making frequent appearances, head coach David Booth put him in charge of Mumbai FC’s Under-19 side — a team that he took to the title.
“Then last year, when Booth and (manager Henry) Menezes went back to Mahindra, I was asked if I wanted to take over as chief coach.” With that, he stops dwelling on the past and turns instead to the future: Defence has turned seamlessly into attack.
Any targets for next season? “Not really, just to be more consistent. If we’ve got all our players fit, we should do well.”