The Nigerian’s exit has created a huge void in the Highlanders’ attack which will be atough task to fill.
Following the departure of head coach Eelco Schattorie, NorthEast United are facing an exodus-like situation having lost assistant coach Shaun Ontong, along with last season’s man-in-form Bartholomew Ogbeche to Kerala Blasters. Adding to that, a host of other key players including Rowllin Borges and Mato Grgic also bid farewell to the club, much to the horror rather of their fans.
Ogbeche’s departure, however, has been very costly for the Highlanders, creating a huge void in the attack, as they are left desperately looking for a new number nine. While there are quite a few options that the club may consider as a replacement for the Nigerian, here are some of the players we think would be better suited for the role:
5. Manvir Singh (FC Goa)
Rising through the ranks in the national team, Manvir Singh has been one of the most talked-about talents in India. The striker hit the headlines when he scored thrice in the 2018 SAFF Championship against Maldives and Pakistan.
Since then, the 23-year-old has featured eight times for FC Goa in the Indian Super League (ISL), registering a goal and an assist in the process. Taking into consideration his age, Manvir has shown great potential as a striker and even earned himself a few suitors as well.
Although, some might disagree with the thought of him replacing the highly-experienced Ogbeche at NorthEast, Manvir remains an option that cannot be ignored.
4. Modou Sougou (Mumbai City)
Sougou scored 12 goals in his 18 appearances for Mumbai City last season.
Being the joint-second highest scorer last season with 12 goals, Mumbai City’s Modou Sougou was one of the hottest prospects in the ISL last season. The 34-year-old forward totalled 47 shots in his 18 appearances for the club.
For the majority of the campaign, Sougou played as a #9 for the Islanders and did his job perfectly well. After all, having played for two consecutive seasons under Jorge Costa at different clubs, the Senegalese was groomed into a striker despite being listed as a natural winger.
3. Matej Poplatnik (Kerala Blasters)
Kerala Blasters are arguably the most active club in the transfer market at the moment having continuously brought in reinforcements, especially from NorthEast. The signing of Ogbeche, although as exciting as it sounds, has brought a cloud of uncertainty on the future of their existing attackers Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic.
The former remains a major option to consider for the Highlanders as a replacement for Ogbeche. The 26-year-old’s uncertain future with his current club means NorthEast are in a good position to bring him in.
2. Willis Plaza (Bashundhara Kings)
Willis Plaza was the joint-top scorer in the I-League last season along gwith Pedro Manzi
Currently plying his trade on loan at Bangladeshi side Bashundhara Kings, Willis Plaza’s contract expires at the end of July, following which he will return to his parent club Churchill Brothers. Plaza has been in superb form for the Goan club, scoring 21 goals and delivering an assist in his 20 appearances last season, emerging as the joint-top scorer in the I-League alongside Pedro Manzi.
The 31-year-old forward would be an ideal signing for the Highlanders and infact it would be a win-win situation for the player as well as the club. Plaza definitely has the ability to play as a lone striker and could be the solution to NorthEast’s depleted attack.
1. Rafael Bastos (Mumbai City)
Impressing for Mumbai City last season, Rafael Bastos, although, not a traditional striker, could become a great signing for the Highlanders. It all comes down to the strategy that the yet-to-be-announced head coach of NorthEast adopts, which will decide the exact role of a versatile player like Bastos.
The Brazilian can play as a forward, winger as well as a creative attacking midfielder and has the ability to cause equal damage in each position. As a matter of fact, the 34-year-old can act as a great second striker in a suitable system.
In such a scenario however, NorthEast will be left looking for yet another striker who could work perfectly in tandem with Bastos, who is currently plying his trade for Brazilian side Juventude. Should the Highlanders bring him back to the ISL, they will need to devise a suitable strategy, so as to allow the player to play to his full potential.