The Imphal-based club finished mid-table this season but their future in the top-tier is uncertain.
After a shaky start to the season with a couple of draws and a loss, NEROCA bounced back with considerable form, winning six of their next eight games. By that time, the Orange Army was on its way to prove itself as more than just a ‘one-season wonder.’
Under new head coach Manuel Fraile, the club looked to gain a strong foothold in the top-tier in their second consecutive season. Defeating the likes of Mohun Bagan, Real Kashmir and Churchill Brothers on-the-go, NEROCA proved they had the mettle to compete against the top teams in the league.
Yet, a late loss of form saw them drop down the table and end the season at sixth, which is still an explainable position. Not to forget that their Super Cup campaign was marred by conflicts with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) along with fellow I-League teams, which saw them boycott the tournament.
Moreover, the club, in its stance against the AIFF’s decision regarding the future of the I-League, threatened to shut down its operations following the footsteps of Minerva Punjab. It will be a sorry state for the country to lose a club like NEROCA and let’s all hope that all goes well and the club stays.
Fact Sheet For Indian Season 2018-19
Season Finished: 6th
Games Played: 20
Win %: 35
NEROCA did not have a very elaborate pre-season like the other teams, choosing instead to train at their new picturesque training facility. The Orange Brigade did, however, play in a couple of friendlies, including one against Indian Super League (ISL) side NorthEast United. The match took place at their home ground, Khuman Lampak Stadium where they secured a narrow 1-0 win. They then travelled to Kolkata to take on ATK’s reserve side, emerging victorious via a 1-2 scoreline.
Underperformer of the Season
Varney Kallon: The 25-year-old was an exceptional player for NEROCA last season and a lot was expected from him in his second season at the club. However, the Liberian’s overall stats depict that he actually had a forgettable season.
In his 17 appearances this season, the centre-back went on to concede 19 goals. The skipper can do much better and has shown his capabilities last season and must improve on his performances this season.
Top 3 Performances
1. NEROCA 2-1 Churchill Brothers
2. NEROCA 2-1 Mohun Bagan
3. NEROCA 3-3 Chennai City
NEROCA refrained to participate in the Super Cup to show solidarity to the I-League clubs who demanded a clear roadmap for the future from the All India Football Federation.
Manager’s Report Card
Following the departure of Gift Raikhan, Spanish coach Manuel Fraile took over the reins at NEROCA and did a commendable job in his first season. Under his charge, several domestic players like Subhash Singh, Ashok Singh and Sebastian Thangmuansang came into limelight.
Moreover, bringing in Chencho Gyeltshen on loan from Bengaluru FC, turned out to be a very successful move for him as the Bhutanese striker netted twice and registered two assists in his five appearances for the club.
However, at the end of the season, the Spaniard parted ways with the club and former Indian footballer Renedy Singh took over the reins as the head coach.
Lessons to be Learned
Although the season wasn’t a failure, it wasn’t a big success either. NEROCA had the potential to turn around a few games that resulted in losses and draws, but were forced to drop points because of a lackluster defensive display.
The club does have a strong set of promising young talents and it is quite important to provide these players with adequate opportunities. Now that Katsumi has signed for Chennai City, there is an urgent requirement of a suitable replacement and hopefully, the club is already on the search.
However, this season showed that the defensive performance of the team needs much improvement as they went on to concede 26 goals, just one less than the number of goals they scored. New coach Renedy has a huge role to play next season, with several amendments to be made to the squad.
New season, New hopes.
In the start of the season, we had the opportunity of signing experienced players who have been playing in the Indian football scene for quite some time. Players like Eduardo, Katsumi became an Orange and a new scene came to Manipur where we had the opportunity of seeing a foreign coach from Spain.
As a person who has been supporting NEROCA for quite some time, since their 2nd Division days, I have to say with utmost honesty that I expected a lot more than a 6th place finish in the Indian league. The team appeared to have been out of coordination and shape in some of the matches, the match with champions Chennai City was one where we saw the well-organized NEROCA outfit coming from as many goals down to secure a 3-3 draw.
After the conclusion of the I-league, they played the prestigious CC meet with an interim coach following the sacking of the previous coach. The club appointed experienced former Indian captain Renedy Potsangbam as the head coach and they appeared to have gone back to the traditional style of dominating football, winning the prestigious CC meet for the 6th record time. In the final NEROCA defeated popular rivals Sagolband United with a scoreline of 7-0 with goals from Chencho and Aryn Williams.
However, unfortunately, three of our most important players left the camp after the tournament. Aryn has been a player, which no NEROCA fan can forget; his leadership qualities, his personality is what I, as a football fan, admire. The comeback against Kerala Blasters will always remind me of him. We will miss the 3 players a lot.
Moreover, we also went to win the State league beating arch-rivals KIASA 5-0 in the final. Safe to say, we are appeared to have regained their touch after a disappointing campaign in the I-League.
Kangleipak na yaifare!