With a tight budget and limited resources to choose from the NEUFC boss is pretty clear with his vision going forward.
Not much done yet but every time they take to the pitch, they make the fans believe in them, make them dream. Putting behind four seasons of misery, wasted luck and bittersweet memories, everyone in the team is upbeat about their chances despite a self-inflicted ‘underdogs’ tag in every contest over the years.
With the fifth edition of the Indian Super League up and running, NorthEast United have made a cautious start to their campaign. In the season opener, visitors FC Goa were held to a 2-2 stalemate – a great result for United considering the might and grit of last season’s semi-finalists and most importantly a settled side. Three days later, three more points against ATK in Kolkata and its been a good start to life for the Highlanders.
Rolling back the calendar to 2016, when Nelo Vingada was at the helm in Guwahati, NorthEast United got off to a similar start. The Portuguese gaffer managed to win three out of his first four games, after which they lost control and crashed into the ditch. A late revival paid dividends as the Highlanders finished fifth on the table, their best league finish till date.
Vingada’s philosophy was pretty clear. With the experienced Ivorian midfield duo of Didier Zokora and Romaric in his side, the Portuguese tactician identified his squad’s core – entrusting attacking responsibilities on Emiliano Alfaro and Nicolas Velez. He rotated the XI around a certain group of players which resulted in fatigue and piled up injury concerns. By mid-season NorthEast United found themselves in troubled waters, the local lads being unable able to soak up the pressure. As such, Chennaiyin FC, ATK and Mumbai City feasted on this poor run and NEUFC lost three tight home games in a row. That was that.
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Watch: ATK 0-1 NEUFC highlights
Back to the present, Eelco Schattorie has been doing a similar job, instilling the fearless attitude to display progressive football. Looking at the tactical aspect of things, the Dutchman has jotted down the best possible combinations of his resources – both Indian and foreign recruits and that too within a short span of time. His deputy from Down Under, Arthur Papas has also been instrumental in the decision-making from the sidelines. What has helped the club’s cause is Schattorie’s involvement with the side since the middle of last season – a phase they would want to erase from their memories.
NEUFC having never qualified for the playoffs, there’s a whole lot of pressure on the coach to break that Top Four jinx. But, Schattorie hasn’t taken up the challenge only for the sake of it. With a tight budget and limited resources to choose from, the Highlanders’ boss is pretty clear with his vision going forward. The foreign recruits have settled in quickly, getting accustomed to the playing conditions and the coach’s philosophy. The club didn’t take the flight abroad for a lavish pre-season and decided to polish their tools at home – arguably a bold move.
After all the planning and pep talk, it is important to translate the idea onto the pitch come matchday. The team shouldn’t run out of goals as compared to Vingada’s time, considering Bartholomew Ogbeche’s attacking prowess, followed by Okrah and Mascia as options. Federico Gallego, Jose Leudo and Indian veteran Rowllin Borges has already made their mark in midfield. In the backline, goalkeeper TP Rehenesh must have felt a lot safer with the Croatian centre-back pairing of Mato Grgic and Mislav Komorski. Local lad Redeem Tlang is one of the first names on the coach’s priority list and the team will bank on his clever runs to setup scoring opportunities.
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Watch: The new head coach has been instilling the fearless attitude to display progressive football
Talking about support and the fans, the city never ran out of energy and the willingness to back the team until last season, when Joao De Deus failed to win a single home game out of the first three. This dampened the spirits of the home fans once and for all. The buzz in the atmosphere rhyming with echoes of the Highlander Brigade has lifted the team from being down to registering many memorable wins in the past. To earn back the trust of the fans will be crucial and the club needs to stress upon winning games in Guwahati and making their home a fortress.
While it is too early to call the team’s fortunes this time around, the Highlanders do possess the squad to deliver the goods whenever required. For Schattorie and NorthEast United, this is the right time to tackle a series of onslaughts as they prepare to delve deeper into the season.