The Highlanders come into the new season with a clean slate and will look to make it to the playoffs for the first time in history.

For those who have been following the fortunes of NorthEast United FC over the last four years, it would be hard for them to remain unaffected. Lacklustre performances, poor squad recruitment and the management’s apathy all have contributed to the frustrations of the Highlander faithful.

Following two fifth-place finishes in as many seasons and missing the playoffs by only a whisker, the hopes were rightfully high at the beginning of the last term. But what transpired was a disaster like no other as the Highlanders finished rock bottom of the league with an embarrassing 13 defeats from their 18 games.

To make matters worse, large swathes of the stands at the home ground remained empty as the negative results kept away the fans. The Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium which always enjoyed a lively crowd was an eerie shadow of its earlier self.

Despite how things have panned out in previous seasons, as NorthEast United prepares for a new season there is renewed hope to start over with a clean slate.

The former Chelsea boss joins the Dutchman in returning to the club

Over the years it has emerged that there is a clear lack of identity in NorthEast United FC’s playing style and it can be attributed to the fact that the club has gone for a different manager in each of its four seasons in the ISL.

Likewise this time too there is a new man at the helm but in actuality, it is very much a continuation of the old guard. The assistant coach to Avram Grant last season, Eelco Schattorie has been installed as the new man in charge of the team while the Israeli has taken up a more of a behind the scenes role as the technical advisor.

The duo joined forces at the club midway into last season after the unceremonious exit of the previous boss Joao Carlos Pires De Deus. The big-talking Portuguese had presided over the nightmarish opening stretch of games that left the team scarred for the rest of the campaign. The results of the team under the new regime weren’t any good either, eight losses out of 11 being far from perfect.

Given the circumstances in which the new bosses took over, it was asking too much of them to script a turnaround. It would have been unfair to expect them to perform miracles considering the squad of players they inherited, which was at best average and further demoralised from the happenings of the first half of the season.

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Though the defeats did not stop, but under the new stewardship, there were noticeable improvements in NorthEast United’s game. The team looked better organised and a plan appeared to be at work behind the approach. The team continued to lose but were not outplayed like before.

It is a smart decision by the NorthEast United management to retain both Eelco Schattorie and Avram Grant at the club and to allow both of them to work in tandem to build on the job they have been doing at the club since last season. With a full pre-season in place, the new head coach would have ample opportunity to put his philosophy across the team.

In a career spanning nearly 20 years Schattorie has a wealth of managerial experience under his belt, the bulk of which came in the middle east and also includes a couple of stints in India as well. The 46 year old has built a reputation as a tactical master who has managed to secure good results at most of the clubs he has been and also at an individual level helped players become better. His philosophy as a coach is to play attractive attacking football while ensuring the organisation of the team is good and that every player has clear roles.

In his years of working in different countries, Schattorie has proved to be extremely adaptable to the football culture, his success across numerous clubs being a testament to that. In the Dutchman, NorthEast United have a coach who through his previous experience knows what works in Indian football rather than a big name whose foreign philosophies may face conflict.

In 2012 when Schattorie took over Prayag United SC, the team had somehow escaped relegation the season before. But the new boss with his vision and tactics made the team to play great football which culminated with the IFA Shield triumph and a top-four finish, not a mean feat considering it was the first season in Indian football for a foreign coach.

Two of the major reasons of NorthEast United’s dismal last season was the profligacy in front of goal and poor decision making in the final third. There were a number of games where the result could have been very different had the frontmen made and finished off the chances they had. Eelco being an attack-minded coach would be looking to turn this shortcoming into a strength. The attacking options among the new Indian and foreign signings seem to have the new coach’s imprint all over and special plans seem to be afoot for the new season.

NorthEast United remain the only founding club of the ISL to yet make the playoffs and there seems to be an inherent mental barrier that has always dogged the Highlanders. The lack of mental fortitude was obvious last season when after going a goal down, the shoulders would drop and a defeat would eventually follow. Apart from playing good football, Schattorie should also encourage his players to play with courage and character.

The road ahead for Eelco Schattorie and NorthEast United FC is extremely tough and the Dutchman knows it all too well. The resources at the club are not adequate in the face of the movers and shakers in the league and he would have to make do with whatever he has got. But having encountered situations alike before and thriving there, the new boss will be  quietly confident of the new challenge ahead.