I-League: Neroca FC to employ ‘tiki-taka’ style under new Spanish coach

In its debut season last year, Neroca surprised one and all by finishing second behind Minerva Punjab.

The Imphal-based club, Neroca, was run on a shoestring budget, but it stood up against big teams like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. (File Photo)   -  Biswaranjan Rout

After a runner-up finish last season, Manipur’s Neroca FC is trying to adopt a “Tiki-taka” style of play under new Spanish coach Manuel Retamero Fraile in its bid to lift the I-League crown this season.

In its debut season last year, Neroca surprised one and all by finishing second behind Minerva Punjab. Local coach Gift Raikhan’s direct and attacking style brought results despite having little experience of playing at the top-flight football earlier. At a stage, Neroca was leading the league standings and it lost the title to Minerva only on the last match day.

The Imphal-based club was run on a shoestring budget, but it stood up against big teams like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Neroca played out draws against East Bengal on both legs, while losing a match and drawing the other against Mohun Bagan.

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With Raikhan moving to the neighbouring state of Mizoram as head coach of former I-League champion Aizawl, his direct football has also left the Manipur side with Spaniard Manuel Retamero Fraile at the helm now.

Retamero, who was with Aizawl FC in 2015-16, has brought in a different style of football based on possession, build-up from the deep and little use of the long ball.

“We have a new Spanish coach and there will be a change in style, it may not be a complete change but it is substantial. Under Raikhan, it was direct football, using long balls most of the time. Under the new coach, we will have little use of long balls, except for crosses and dead-ball situations,” Neroca captain Lalit Thapa said in an interview.

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“The new style is all about short passes, build-up from the deep, but attacking football. It is akin to Tika-Taka style of Spain.”

Tiki-taka is a Spanish style of play characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.

Neroca opens campaign against East Bengal at home on Saturday. Thapa, who mans the Neroca goal, said that the players were adapting to the new style which was even alien to the football culture of the small state.

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“For most of the clubs in Manipur and the youngsters as well, it is all about direct football, using long balls. So, it is different from our football culture in Manipur, but we are hoping this will bring results to us and we are able to win the title this time,” said the player from Imphal.

Apart from signing a new coach, Neroca has also brought in three new foreigners, including seasoned attacking midfielder Katsumi Yusa who has plied his trade with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal earlier.

Brazil-born defender Eduardo Ferreira joined from East Bengal, while Italian Mauro Boerchio is the reserve goalkeeper. Most of the homegrown players have, however, been retained.

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While with Aizawl FC in 2015-16, Retamero was known for his attacking football, though the Mizoram side ended at eighth among nine teams. Last year, he helped Ulaanbaatar FC to finish second in Mongolian top division.

Asked about Neroca’s title chances, Thapa said, “We are gunning for the title or at least we have to finish second, but not below this. Last year, our target was to finish at top four and we ended at second. The people of Manipur will not accept anything below the last year performance.”