Bereft of quality foreigners and feeding off scraps in Indian talent, clueless Highlanders still no closer to rewarding mix.
It seems like Groundhog Day all over again for NorthEast United FC and their pursuit for a first-ever foray into the play-off places after an underwhelming start to the league so far. The Highlanders, apart from FC Pune City, is the only founder club that has not yet made the playoffs in the tournament’s history and going by how the team looks compared to the other franchises, this piece of statistic doesn’t seem to change anytime sooner.
NorthEast United FC currently sit at 9th place on the table just above Delhi Dynamos with just 4 points from 6 games. While the defence marshalled by the new foreign recruits Jose Goncalves and Sambinha looks somewhat okay-ish, it is the disturbing lack of quality up-front that is hurting the Highlanders big time. The North East based team till now have just twice found the back of the net, jointly lowest with newbies Jamshedpur FC and is mainly the reason for the Highlanders worst ever points tally after 6 games into a season.
Previous editions of the Indian Super League has seen players like Elano, Stiven Mendoza, Iain Hume, Marcelinho set the league alight with their goalscoring prowess and thereby significantly helping propel their respective teams into the business end of the competition. NorthEast United never had such a potent attacking threat in all these years and definitely, it was no stroke of genius from the team management by not retaining striker Emiliano Alfaro from last season’s squad.
EMILIANO ALFARO’S DEPARTURE AND POOR FORM OF STRIKERS
The Uruguayan top-scored for the Highlanders last season with 5 goals and though the returns weren’t exactly earth-shattering, it was pretty good considering the ‘First season syndrome’ and he could have been a real asset to the team in his second season in Indian football. Alfaro is a goal poacher, a proper “fox in the box” and current employers FC Pune City have already started reaping the benefits of getting the wily Uruguayan in their mix, with him so far netting 5 goals for the Stallions. Alfaro looks to be a strong contender for the golden boot this season.
As Alfaro’s replacement for this season, the team management turned their attention to South America and roped in Danilo Lopes Cezario and Luis Paez from Brazil and Columbia respectively as their striking options. Danilo, a product of the famed Santos academy has been Coach De Deus’s first choice for the No.9 role. The Brazilian is full of running and uses his work rate and physical strength well to heckle opposition defenders, yet, he seems to be criminally deficient when it comes to finishing, being guilty of wasting many good chances in close games that could have made a difference to the team’s current position on the table.
The stats also allude to this fact, with the Brazilian having only 1 goal to show from his 19 attempts, that too a gift from Delhi Dynamos goalie Albino Gomes. The other striker, Luis Paez has been used by the coach mostly from the bench, but the Columbian hasn’t done anything of note so far, to compel Danilo to fight for his place.
At a time when the foreign contingents of teams like Bengaluru FC and FC Goa are making all the right noises with their ruthless performances, their counterparts from the North East have looked downright pedestrian with the attacking players especially not showing any real inspiration to help change the fortunes of the team that has underachieved all these years.
Marcinho, the attacking midfielder seems to be the only quality signing this far, blessed with good vision and also equally adept at scoring. The Brazilian looks the most dangerous in the Highlanders ranks, but the sub-par quality around him and also at the front hasn’t really allowed his performances to have any telling impact so far. Though no club that wishes to be competitive and keep challenging for trophies every season should be dependent on one player to grind out results for them, the Highlanders certainly are missing the services of a certain Nicolas Velez, who with his charisma on the field and his virtuoso performances helped the Highlanders to become a competitive unit in the last two editions of the competition.
POOR INDIAN RETENTIONS
After witnessing the performances of the team in the games so far, the NorthEast United management may have been forced to question their strategy in the player draft that took place before the season. With almost all teams entering the draft with a clean slate, the fans of the franchise were left a bit dissatisfied with the Indian talent the team ended up with and their fears were confirmed after a mostly poor show from the Indian contingent so far with only a few decent performances in between.
The Highlanders have quite clearly got it wrong for the goalkeeper’s role in retaining TP Rehenesh and not the experienced and sedate Subrata Pal, who is currently leading the charts with the most number of clean sheets in the league (five) for Jamshedpur FC. Rehenesh has provided ample instances of his reckless and error-prone game in the past and has been at it this season again with him having a direct hand in his team’s defeats in the games against Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters. The other retention, Rowllin Borges has not yet looked the same player from last season. The Goan has struggled to be the steely presence in the middle of the park that the team expects him to be.
The most high profile drafted in player and local fan favourite, Holicharan Narzary has had to contend with patchy form. Barring the game against Delhi Dynamos, Holi’s performances so far haven’t been up to the standards that is expected from a National Team regular. Narzary has struggled to develop any sort of cohesion with his teammates and is often guilty of trying to dribble his way out, turning over possession a number of times.
TACTICS OF THE MANAGER
Coach De Deus’s tactics also have been suspect and the Portuguese manager seems to be lacking a Plan B to fall upon when the team is chasing a match. Also, the substitutions that he has been making has in no way threatened to turn the game his team’s way. The Gaffer’s persistence with some of the players like Seminlen Doungel and Reagan Singh despite their regressing performances is also questionable.
NorthEast United’s road ahead is tough, with the League not getting any easier. The Highlanders would have to start stringing a run of good performances to keep their improbable play-off dreams alive , that would surprise them as much as their critics