The Highlanders seek consistency in performance and results as they aim to make the playoffs for the first time in ISL history.
Last Season’s Performance
The last edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) ended in all too familiar fashion for NorthEast United FC, missing out on the final playoff slot, by two points and finishing in the 5th place for the second season running. The Highlanders started the season brightly, pocketing 10 points from the first five games, with wins over Kerala Blasters, FC Goa and FC Pune City, but after that their form fell away spectacularly, the last nine games yielding a mere 8 points. The away performances of the Highlanders were particular, poor with only one win from their seven outings away from home.
NEUFC kicked off their pre-season with an exhibition match against newly promoted I-League side NEROCA FC at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium, Imphal. The Highlanders won 2-0 courtesy of goals from new signing foreign signing, Danilo and Sushil Meitei. NEUFC are currently away on a pre-season tour to Turkey, where they have been training and have also played a few friendlies against a few Iraqi Premier League sides
Vingada’s compatriot will seek to take the team into the playoffs this season
Last season’s head coach Nelo Vingada left NEUFC at the end of the season after being offered the top job at the Malaysian national team. He was replaced by fellow countryman Joao Carlos Pires de Deus. The young 40-year-old Portuguese started his career as an assistant coach with Vitoria de Setubal. His first assignment as head coach was with the Cape Verde national team in 2008 with whom De Deus enjoyed considerable success. The Blue Sharks broke into the top 50 of FIFA’s rankings by the end of his term in 2010. De Deus had stints in Portugal notably with Sporting Clube de Portugal B, with whom he did a good job of developing and honing new talent.
Ins: NEUFC did some shrewd business in the 2017-18 ISL player draft and brought in some exciting Indian players. They drafted in 13 players, among them Nirmal Chettri, Reagan Singh. Fanai Lalrempuia and Holicharan Narzary were retained from the previous season’s squad.
The Highlanders added nine Indian players to their squad. Young goalkeeper Ravi Kumar was signed along with Gurpreet Singh Chabal. They also signed defenders Gursimrat Singh Gill, Abdul Hakku along with experienced left-back Robert Lalthlamuana. NorthEast United also signed some exciting attacking talent in the likes of Malemngamba Meitei, Sushil Metei, Lalrindika Ralte and Seminlen Dougel to make sure that the attacking brand of football will continue for the Highlanders this season.
From the foreign market they added Marcinho, the 31-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder who will don the #10 jersey for NEUFC this season. He has played for Brazilian giants Corinthians and has also played in the Bulgarian First League with CSKA Sofia Luis Alfonso Paez, is a 31-year-old Colombian left-footed striker who has the experience of around 200 games in the Colombian 1st Division. He had a prolific last season for Rionegro Aguilas scoring 21 goals in 36 appearances
Jose Goncalves is a 32-year-old centre-back, who holds Swiss and Portuguese nationalities. A graduate of the FC Basel Academy, he has played top-tier football in Switzerland, Scotland and in the USA. Odair Fortes, is a 30-year-old lightning quick winger from Cape Verde, he reunites with coach De Deus under whom he broke into the National team squad. He has spent almost the entirety of his career at Stade Reims, with whom he has the rich experience of playing in the Ligue 1
Sambinha, is another player who reunites with gaffer De Deus having played for him at Sporting B. The 24 year old centre back from Guinea- Bissau has also played for MLS side, New England Revolution on loan. Adilson Goiano, the 29-year-old Brazilian defensive midielder is the 6th foreign signing made by the Highlanders this season. He spent the last two seasons at Portuguese Premiera Liga side F.C. Arouca and was an important player for them, racking up 58 appearances.
Martin Diaz, is the 7th foreign signing made by NEUFC this season, a commanding presence at centre-back, Diaz represented his nation Uruguay at 2005 U-17 world championships, where he was the captain of the side Danilo, is the 26-year-old Brazilian striker who was signed, after fellow Brazilian Wellington, withdrew from the squad for reasons unknown
Outs: NorthEast United FC also lost many of their important players from last season in the ISL draft, with some opting to move away from the club in the summer as well. Proficient attacker Nicolas Velez decided to join Thai League club Suphanburi FC, while Wellington Priori moved to Pattaya United. Mailson Alves was snapped up by Chennaiyin FC, while Gustavo Lazaretti moved to Brusque Futebal Clube. Some of their important Indian talents in the likes of Sumit Passi, Subrata Pal and Robert Gurung were all signed by new-comers Jamshedpur FC, while Seityasen Singh was signed by Delhi Dynamos. The Highlanders also lost their star Emiliano Alfaro, who decided to join FC Pune City. They decided to release their foreign stars Didier Zokora and Romaric, who are currently free agents.
Formations and Tactics
This is how the Highlanders could lineup this season
Coach Joao de Deus is a fan of the offensive 4-3-3 formation, having successfully used it with the sides he has previously managed. Going by the starting 11’s he has fielded in the pre-season games he is expected to play the same formation for the upcoming season. De Deus’ side is abundant with attacking talent and the coach has quite a job at hand to pick the best possible players upfront. At the middle of the park, Rowllin Borges, Adilson and Marcinho all have the vision to thread dangerous balls into the quick footed wingers on either flank to hit teams on the counter.
The John Abraham owned franchise has put up a really balanced squad this time around, with the right mix of experience complimenting a young side. From defence to attack, every department seems to be well covered. The appointment of coach, De Deus is also a step taken in the positive direction, the Portuguese being a tactically astute manager, with a proven track record of doing well with young teams.
Winning Mentality; something that has been elusive among all the NEUFC teams in each of the three previous seasons, coach De Deus would have to address this issue at the earliest if he is to make any difference
Top 3 Players to Watch
Halicharan Narzary: NEUFC didn’t waste much time in securing him in the ISL players draft, making him their first pick. A regular with the Indian National team now, Halicharan is one of the best wingers in the country. Churning out consistent performances game after game last season, Hali was one of the most hard-working and efficient players over the course of the ISL campaign. A fan favourite, NEUFC will bank upon him to inspire with his performances.
” Teamwork will be the key to NorthEast United FC’s success this season.” Attacker Halicharan Narzary analyzes his team.
Jose Goncalves: This Portuguese born centre-back possesses an impressive CV, he played in the Champions league with Swiss club FC Thun. He played in the top tiers of Scottish and German football while being linked with Premier League sides Everton and Newcastle. He moved to MLS side New England Revolution in 2013, his performances that season earned him the MLS defender of the season award. A robust presence at the heart of defence, at 32 he still has a couple of years of good football left in him. Promising young centre-backs, Gursimrat Gill and Abdul Hakku would benefit enormously playing alongside him.
Rowllin Borges: An important member of the Indian National Team, this Goan midfielder has always exhibited a maturity in his game that has belied his young age. His consistent performances for the Highlanders last season, prompted the top brass to retain him for another two seasons. Coach De Deus would look upto him to provide the much needed steel in the middle of the park.
NEUFC fixtures this season (Courtesy: ISL)
What to Expect
After the departure of their talisman and fan favourite Nico Velez, who almost single-handedly ran the show for NEUFC, the fans of the Guwahati based franchisee aren’t really convinced of the club’s credentials to mount a challenge this season. Comments on Facebook and Instagram posts are replete with pleas from fans, asking the club to re-sign the Argentinean. However, the team assembled for this season is good enough to offset the absence of any ex-player and may even surprise everyone. But that won’t be easy as every club has beefed up their reinforcements equally. The fans though, can expect to watch some positive attacking football from the Highlanders this ISL.