Winless after seven straight games in 2020-21 ISL, NorthEast United FC sacked Gerard Nus and appointed assistant coach Khalid Jamil as their interim manager for the remainder of the season. The Highlanders' fortunes changed for the better as the club went on a nine-match unbeaten streak and qualified for the playoffs.
NorthEast United FC played a 1-1 draw with ATK Mohun Bagan in the first leg before succumbing to a 2-1 loss in the second leg to bow out of the competition.
Ashutosh Mehta previously played under Khalid Jamil and was elated to see him take charge. Speaking to Sportskeeda, the Indian national football team defender admitted that he was the reason Mehta joined the club.
"Yes, yes. He was the reason I joined NorthEast United FC. He was the reason I joined Aizawl FC and he was the reason I joined Mumbai FC. Definitely, he was a big influence on me joining NorthEast United FC."
Khalid Jamil's first assignment as the interim coach of NorthEast United FC came against Jamshedpur FC. The Highlanders won the match convincingly with a 2-1 scoreline, courtesy of goals from Ashutosh Mehta and Deshorn Brown.
Despite being stranded in the bottom half of the table, Khalid Jamil believed in the potential of his NorthEast United FC players. The former I-League winning coach inspired his team with a motivational speech before Jamshedpur FC match.
"The first match which he was in charge of was against Jamshedpur FC. I still remember him telling us in a huddle, 'Play your natural game. Just be disciplined in the back and express yourselves. If anything wrong happens, I will take the blame not you. I will take all the responsibilities. Just play with your free mind,' " recounted Mehta.
"If you see, NorthEast United FC had a very good team to win the championship. Khalid (Jamil) bhai knew the potential because he signed most of the Indian players if I am not wrong," Ashutosh Mehta added.
Indian managers are capable of coaching an ISL side: NorthEast United FC defender Ashutosh Mehta
Initially, ISL clubs weren't allowed to appoint Indian managers as head coaches. However, the rule was erased from the 2019-20 season. Despite the incentive, no club took the risk, fearing the consequences of a poor result.
But, Khalid Jamil has shown that Indian coaches are capable of leading ISL teams. Ashutosh Mehta echoed the sentiment and said:
"He has shown what he (Khalid Jamil) is capable of. 100%. Not only him but there are so many other good (Indian) coaches. For me, Pradyum (Reddy), Derrick (Pereira) sir, Thangboi Singto they are all very good coaches and for sure, they are capable of coaching an ISL club."
Ashutosh Mehta's tryst with NorthEast United FC seems to have come to an end. The journeyman has reportedly signed for ATK Mohun Bagan for the upcoming ISL season.