The Dutch tactician’s experience in the league last season is proving invaluable for the Highlanders.
The story of NorthEast United, the only ISL club from the northeastern region of the country has been underwhelming for the majority of their existence. A couple of campaigns, including the previous one were pretty abject for the Highlanders, while in the other two they could not manage a consistent run of good games, which resulted in them not making the playoffs by agonisingly close margins.
With other teams in the league making strong additions to their squad as well as at the management level, NorthEast looked left behind in their recruitment of players. Also handing over the reins of the team to Eelco Schattorie didn’t make much noise due to his lack of big-name management experience. Even the most ardent fans of the Highlanders did not have high hopes for the season.
But, what has transpired since the beginning of the campaign to this point has seen even their strongest detractors sit up and take notice. With a third of the season gone the Highlanders are currently in fifth place having played a game less than most of the other teams. For a team for whom the playoffs barrier has proved to be too big a hurdle to overcome, this season provides a great chance to break that duck.
Though it may seem to be too far-fetched, under the brilliant stewardship of Schattorie there is a possibility that the season might culminate with crowning glory for the Highlanders.
Schattorie’s attacking gameplay has been supported well by Bartholomew Ogbeche
A significant portion of the season is yet to be played and there is still a chance the Highlanders may encounter a slump in form like in previous terms. But, from what has been seen from Schattorie’s men till now, they already look a better team than the ones from previous campaigns. The way the team has shown up in recent games, the Highlanders look like they have the ingredients to mount a serious title challenge.
A thing quite clear in NorthEast United’s game this season is the way they have set out to dominate the opponents, whichis in stark contrast to last season. Schattorie’s attacking, fearless footballing philosophy seems to have been well-received by his team.
The coach has demanded character from the boys and the fight and desire on display has been admirable. It has been heartening to see the team find an extra gear to grind out results in games where things have not exactly going their way. The 4-3 win over reigning champions Chennaiyin after going 2-0 down, late goals to win against ATK and Delhi Dynamos, speaks of the work going on behind the scenes.
Being an attack-minded coach, Schattorie has been spot on with his signings in that department, particularly the likes of Ogbeche and Federico Gallego. NEUFC struggled for goals in their last campaign and that was majorly due to the lack of a clinical finisher in front of goal. The head coach identified the problem at hand straightaway and brought in the experienced Nigerian poacher, who has looked every bit the striker the Highlanders needed. With six goals already in his kitty, Ogbeche will be a major reason if NorthEast United achieve something unprecedented come the end of the season.
One thing that makes Schattorie a brilliant coach is his hands-on approach with the players, helping them with detailed roles and instructions to go about with the game. The players have benefitted from such an approach, especially Indian boys like Redeem Tlang and Rowllin Borges.
Redeem, the young winger has put in a series of good performances and has become one of the first names on the team-sheet. Borges who had such a poor last season has been putting in solid performances this season and is providing a glimpse of the player his team needs him to be. The India international is certainly profiting from having his coach’s confidence.
Under the Dutchman, there is a visible structure within the team and a plan is in place in games, a far cry from last season when the whole team appeared clueless on the pitch. This discipline is paying dividends, as the Highlanders haven’t been easy to break down, conceding the second lowest number of goals in the league behind Bengaluru FC.
Like he has done for most of his coaching career, Schattorie is once again thriving under adversity, making do with whatever resources he has at his disposal, dealing with injuries and suspensions, while making NorthEast a solid competent side that also plays attractive football. The coach’s tactical nous forged in the land of Total Football has shone through in his in-game changes, seamlessly making his side transition between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 and also making smart substitutions.
Like the Dutchman has himself said, “Taj Mahal was not built in a day and if you want to build something, it takes time,” So, to expect the Highlanders to do the unthinkable on the basis of their splendid start to the season would be a tall ask. But, if the shrewd tactician remains around and is allowed to do his thing then the Highlanders could most certainly be staking their claim for the title in seasons to come.