The decade and a half of not having tasted the joy of winning the national title seemed close to be addressed given East Bengal’s team and chances this season. A lot depended on the way the Kolkata Derby would pan out. Now the derby is over and done with and East Bengal are in a far worse position than they can afford to be. Before the derby, East Bengal were looking to close in on the gap between them and Minerva but now, after losing their match against Mohun Bagan, they have slipped to the third position, have played more matches than Neroca (who is now at number two) and Minerva, and are still stuck with 19 points.
Of the many questions that are looming large over the red and gold banner, the future of Khalid Jamil’s tenure at the club is definitely one. Jamil came into limelight during his stint with Mumbai FC but his greatest achievement as manager came during his time with Aizawl FC. Under the guidance of Khalid Jamil, Aizawl FC became the first team from the northeast to win the I-league in the history of Indian football.
However, for a coach who has previously won the league and has pulled clubs like Mumbai FC from the mouth of relegation, it is baffling as to how he cannot crack the derby code even after three tries. Almost every expert who had happened to comment on the match before-hand had held Mohun Bagan to be at a disadvantage. With the Sony Norde card off the table and an East Bengal in full strength, there was nothing that was not in favour of the Khalid Jamil side. Yet, East Bengal crumbled like an ill baked cookie in the hands of a Mohun Bagan that mostly comprised of youngsters and newcomers.
Having lost a derby so crucial, the ‘Go Back Khalid Jamil’ chants were strong among the East Bengal supporters, and given the past history of Kolkata clubs in light of such situations, it is not often that the coach gets a chance long enough to secure their position. With a series of poor performances and more than the number of chances, the club has finally bid goodbye to Willis Plaza. The question, now, is at what point Jamil will also be shown the door.
Unlike Sanjoy Sen, who claimed to have taken the decision to step down after losing the confidence of the fans, Khalid Jamil is undeterred in his aim to turn the team around. Far from deciding to step down, he has taken the blame upon himself and said that the team deserves none of the wrath that they are receiving.
Khalid Jamil’s response after the humiliating performance of the team is probably one of the few things that might buy him some time in Kolkata. Although his strategies proved to fall short, factors such as Al Amna’s exit were not anticipated. However, Jamil was quick to take the entire blame of himself and promised not to leave the club like a ‘coward’. The question, however, is not of Jamil deciding to stay or not. It is whether or not he will be given the opportunity to turn tables.
East Bengal received a huge blow in their pursuit of lifting the trophy and the only approach the club can take is to win all seven of the remaining names, which realistically does not look that plausible. Adding to that is the fact that Al Amna is probably going to be missing in their next match against Minerva which is possibly the one match that East Bengal cannot lose a point against.
Jamil’s side has managed to win only one of their last five matches and has been on a steady downward curve. Should East Bengal fail to clinch the vital three points from their match against Minerva Punjab, it could possibly sound the death knell for Khalid Jamil’s stint at East Bengal. A win on Tuesday would buy him time to change the current misfortunes that the club is being plagued by. At this point, the best that Jamil can hope for is that the East Bengal club authorities will allow him to stay as head coach until the end of the season.
Even if Jamil is kept in his seat until the end of the season, it is probably too optimistic to think that he will be reinstated as coach next season as well. If the past is any indication, the only way any kind of concession will be directed towards the coach, is if he can return to East Bengal the winning frame of mind that they were in when they briefly became table toppers. The only way he can earn a second season with East Bengal is by winning the league.
In the coming days, East Bengal have seven matches, out of which none are impossible to win against. The trickiest thorn in the bush is that of Minerva and the one point programme that the club should be following is by taking each match as it comes. In spite of Plaza’s poor performances, the coach repeatedly kept him in the squad on every occasion receiving very little in return. Now that the Plaza ship has sailed, Jamil will have to come up with a refurbished plan to continue for the rest of the season. For what it is worth, it could be much of a blessing to the troubled East Bengal coach.
The manner in which Khalid Jamil put Aizawl FC on the map of Indian football, and saved Mumbai FC from doom, it is unfortunate that East Bengal fell into the current slump that they did. With East Bengal, too, Khalid Jamil showed a lot of promise when the team won four matches in a row, quite convincingly and without too many hiccups. Although his fate is deeply intertwined with the fate of East Bengal in the next couple of weeks, it would be interesting to see if Khalid Jamil’s longevity at East Bengal is given an inspection beyond this season, even though chances look slim.