Lack of experience and character hit hard as the Highlanders’ endured another miserable season
Just when the country’s footballing hotbed is in news for all the good reasons recently, it seems there’s a faulty engine at work in NorthEast United FC, the beloved ISL franchise from the region. After finishing the previous season in the fifth position, John Abraham and his Highlanders were upbeat about their chances this time around and so were their ever-faithful fans. However, fate had other plans.
The change in personnel midseason at the apex seemed to bring a wind of change, but that too was shortlived. All in all, the team did not have the right mix of youth and experience, failed to draw crowds at home and ended their campaign with six defeats on the bounce.
In an attempt to salvage some pride and respect, Northeast United took on I-League side Gokulam Kerala in a qualifying match for the inaugural Hero Super Cup. But Gokulam spoilt the Highlanders’ hope and earned a well fought 2-0 victory to pile more misery on their troublesome season.
Fact Sheet for Indian Season 2017-18
Season Finished: 10th
Games Played: 19
Won : 3
Lost : 14
Drawn : 2
Win %: 15.78%
The Highlanders’ began fine tuning their skills with two domestic preseason friendlies against Shillong United (formerly Royal Wahingdoh) and NEROCA FC respectively, registering comfortable wins in both. An extensive preseason preparation awaited the team at Antalya in Turkey. In the first five matches against Iraqi Premier League sides, NEUFC registered one win, two draws and two defeats. A 0-0 draw against a Turkish Super Lig side winded up the team’s overseas tour.
Underperformer of the Season
Rowlin Borges: While Joao de Deus tipped him as the best Indian player before the start of the season, the Highlanders’ fans expected the same this ISL. But expectations didn’t bear fruit. The Indian team’s midfield mainstay had a poor season. Borges looked slow to move around, made strong physical tackles out of frustration and couldn’t improvise chances. Poor ball control and losing possession too cheaply at times highlighted the veteran’s major lapses.
Borges’ Performance in ISL 2017-18
Yellow Cards: 2
Top 3 Performances
Delhi Dynamos 0-2 NorthEast United FC ( Match Report and Highlights)
- NorthEast United FC 2-1 FC Goa ( Match Report and Highlights)
- NorthEast United FC 3-1 Chennaiyin FC ( Match Report and Highlights)
Manager’s Report Card
Five defeats in the opening seven games saw the sacking of coach Joao de Deus. The adamant Portuguese was still optimistic about his capabilities but the team management thought otherwise. His was a defensive approach and the team couldn’t find a place to hide when the opposition’s attack came in roaring.
The second half of the season saw ex-Chelsea boss Avram Grant take charge with Dutch tactician Eelco Schattorie as his deputy. To be honest, the change in team’s mentality was noticeable right away and there was more balance between defence and attack. However, with limited resources at his disposal and lack of motivation around, Grant could not help United avoid slip to the bottom.
Lessons to be learned
Where did it all go wrong? The squad didn’t have someone in the form of a proper leader/marquee player to look up to. The management focused more on local talents than quality talents. Overseas signings were much effective compared to that of other clubs. The zeal and hunger to perform and do well was lacking.
After a forgettable league season, the owners and team management must regroup quickly and make the right strategic moves, be it in team selection or infuse a winning mentality.
“A very disappointing season for NorthEast United; yet another season where we finished at the bottom of the table. The quality of the players signed were just not good enough. We sold our top scorer and our first team goalkeeper to our rivals and our replacements were poor, to say the least. Nico Velez, our best player from the last two seasons was also allowed to leave. We had two comparatively good seasons where we had players who could single-handedly change the game. Simao and Velez (in 2015), Romaric, Alfaro and Velez (in 2016).
That kind of quality was missing this season. The attack was toothless and the midfield was easily bullied. Borges had a wonderful season in 2016 but seemed out of sorts without Romaric to support him in the midfield. Even the goalkeeper Rehenesh had a horrible season as he made quite a few match costing blunders.”