Not many teams get relegated from a league one season and win the same league the next. But Aizawl FC, you have defied the odds. Come Sunday, what was unimaginable twelve months ago could be a reality. Khalid Jamil and his ‘small’ club from India’s northeastern tip are one point away from the unthinkable.
They started I league 2016-17 with a new coach, who didn’t know the players, didn’t know the city. But he did know what passion and determination could bring. They started I league 2016-17 with the second lowest budget among all the teams. Yet their players were given bonuses and wow, have they delivered. They started I league 2016-17 as the favourites to get relegated. They’re now favourites to win it all.
Irrespective of what happens at Shillong on Sunday, Aizawl have done an amazing job. They’ve gone and taken the centre-stage of Indian football, and right now, they’re firmly on the top of the Indian football landscape. But what does this mean for Aizawl FC next year? With the imminent merger of ISL and I-League, there’s little chance that we’ll see an Aizawl FC in ISL with John Abraham and Northeast United around. Surely everyone’s favourite underdog won’t play in an I-League two? How cruel irony can rule the world. Relegated in 2016, champions in 2017, second division in 2018! – And unfortunately, this situation isn’t the absurdity it should be. We really don’t know what’ll happen yet, but the one thing we do know is Aizawl’s spectacular escapade at I-League 2016-17 isn’t going to make merger talks easy.
A striking trait of Aizawl’s success story has been how Khalid Jamil and his coaching team has made the players to work together in a seemingly-infallible team. They’ve done their reputations no damage at all. The idea of foreign coaches is the latest bug that’s bit everyone in the ISL – can Khalid defy the odds again and land himself an ISL Head Coach job? His preference to be in the proximity of his family in Mumbai has been well-documented –can Mumbai City FC’s new Head Coach be Khalid Jamil? Maybe an Assistant Coach at least? What about the players? Haven’t they got themselves bumper contracts with India’s largest clubs and the ISL?
NorthEast United would do well to use Aizawl’s success to uplift its own image. If there cannot be two Northeast clubs in the ISL, raiding Aizawl players would be far from being Northeast’s worst idea. Leveraging Mizoram football’s success surely has to be something NorthEast United should look to do – after all, Mizoram won the Santosh Trophy just a couple of years ago.
Really the only thing certain now is uncertainty. Plenty of questions, much less answers. All we can do now is rely on the winds of time to bring in the relief of surety. After all, it’s what time does best.
(Article written by Akarsh, Football content Analyst @SportsKPI. Follow him @akarshvenkat )