When NorthEast United FC were formed back in 2014, in Indian Super League’s inaugural season, it was predicted by critics and fans alike to do wonders, considering the love for football in the North East. The football craze in the region is not only restricted to watching or supporting but also in terms of talent and the Indian national team as well as the U-17 team that participated in the World Cup is proof of that.
Ground reality: The John Abraham co-owned club has been the only team so far in the last four ISL seasons which has failed to reach the playoffs other than the 2017 debutants Jamshedpur FC which comes as a surprise considering the football obsession of the eight states.
They finished bottom of the table in the inaugural season, came close to a spot in the play-offs the next year, had a good start in 2016 but missed out the play-offs again.
“It’s a new season, it’s a new day and we’re going to fight to live another day”
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) 18 September 2018
The reasons for this have been many. While the club has failed to build a team, the management has also fallen back when it came to recruiting or even retaining the abundant talent in North East. In 2014 when the tournament was launched amidst much fan fare, Abraham had said, “We were very clear that we would select players from the North East. Most of the players in our team are from the under-19 lot and also players from under-20.”
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Even though the club’s policy has changed and the side started acquiring players from all parts of the country, the strategy did not help NEUFC as their signings have been poor and they have been one of the lowest spenders in the league. Additionally, the players signed are unfamiliar with the playing conditions in India.
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This year, NEUFC were the last ISL club to announce their foreign recruit. Moreover, they even cancelled their pre-season tour which was supposed to be held in Sweden and instead trained in the country. They played three matches before the season kicks off, winning two. NEUFC started well, defeating Guwahati Town Club 6-0 but then went down 1-0 to I-League runners-up NEROCA. They ended their pre-season with a one-sided 4-0 win against NBP Rainbow AC.
📸 Highlights from our Preseason friendly against @NerocaFC yesterday.
— NorthEast United FC (@NEUtdFC) 16 September 2018
NEUFC new coach Eelco Schattorie, who earlier managed East Bengal, reflected the pressure the side is under ahead of the season. The Dutch coach minced no words when he said that the team lacked quality. “I like to attack and dominate. But to dominate, you must have quality. You cannot convert a Mini Cooper into a Ferrari. You have to look at the quality and then fit it into a system. My intention is always to win. But you have to keep in mind the quality as well,” he said. “The Taj Mahal was not built in a day and if you want to build something, it takes time. We will work together to make the best out of the season.”
The Highlanders will be hoping for a good tournament this year, with their backs pressed against the wall. They signed FIFA U-17 World Cup sensation Juan Cruz Mascia of Uruguay and Nikhil Kadam, who was the standout player for Mohun Bagan last year. NEUFC will play their first match of 2018-19 season against FC Goa on October 1.
Goalkeepers: Gurmeet, Pawan Kumar, TP Rehenesh
Defenders: Gurwinder Singh, Keegan Pereira, Reagan Singh, Mato Grgic, Mislav Komorski, Pawan Kumar, Provat Lakra, Robert Lalthlamuana, Simranjeet Singh
Midfielders: Federico Gallego, Jose Leudo, Lalrempuia Fanai, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Nikhil Kadam, Redeem Tlang, Rowllin Borges, Rupert Nongrum
Forwards: Augustine Okrah, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Girik Khosla, Juan Mascia, Kivi Zhimomi