ISL: It’s all about NEUFC’s mindset

NorthEast United FC enters the 2017 Indian Super League season with renewed hope under a young Portuguese coach Joao Carlos Pires de Deus. The 40-year-old tactician has strung together a side that has no stars but presents a good balance overall.

Halicharan Narzary

Halicharan Narzary will be akey attacking outlet for NorthEast United this season.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Representing the most prolific zone of India’s football hierarchy, NorthEast United FC has flattered to deceive when it comes to reaching the championship stage in the past three seasons of the Indian Super League. The team that claims to encapsulate the passion for football, uniting the eight states in the north-eastern part of the country, has done everything but gain the necessary points to earn a passage to the semifinals. FC Pune City is the only other team in the League not to have made the last four stage in the last three seasons.

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Past performance

2016: Matches played: 14; Goals scored: 14; Top scorer: Emiliano Alfaro (five); Result: Finished fifth.

2015: Matches played: 14; Goals scored: 18; Top scorer: Nicolas Velez (five); Result: Finished fifth.

2014: Matches played: 14; Goals scored: 11; Top scorer: Koke (Four); Result: Finished eighth.

 

In the wake of failure each season, the franchise, co-owned by actor John Abraham, has sought to redeem itself by sacking the coaching staff. Already three managers have returned home, leaving the dreams of the football crazy population that has regularly come in huge numbers to fill up the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati (the home of NorthEast United FC) unfulfilled. The axe did not miss a large number of players too, as NEUFC presented almost a completely new team each season, only to see its campaign end prematurely. The team’s think-tank is still looking for that successful combination which would give it sufficient points to enter the Round of Four.

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Now that the ISL has been given an extended format, with 95 matches spread over roughly five months, NEUFC enters the 2017 season with renewed hope under a young Portuguese coach Joao Carlos Pires de Deus. The 40-year-old tactician, whose best came with the Cape Verde national team early in his career, has strung together a side that has no stars but presents a good balance overall. The challenge for de Deus, who himself has not survived the full tenure of his contracts with some of the clubs, will be in motivating NEUFC to break its mental barrier.

The pre-season in Turkey was not very promising, as NEUFC lost two matches and drew one against different Iraqi clubs. Back home, it beat the newly promoted I-League side from Manipur, Neroca FC, 2-0.

The team has a mix of youth and experience in the midfield and attack, where the likes of Seiminlen Doungel, Lalrindika Ralte, Malemnganba Meitei and Fanai Lalrempuia will be operating. There is also Halicharan Narzary, who has grown over the years as a player with good attacking instinct. Among the other Indian names, the team will be banking on the creative ability of Rowlin Borges, who is one player the club retained from the previous season.

 

NEUFC presents a completely new list of foreign players, with de Deus bringing in the Cape Verde international, Odair Fortes, to lead the attack. The 30-year-old striker played for the French Second Division side, Stade Reims, for nine seasons before making his move to India.

The team has three Brazilians in midfielders Marcinho and Adilson Goiano, and Danilo Cezario, a striker. It also has a Colombian forward in Luis Paez. The ‘Highlanders’ have invested well in getting good foreigners in the back-line where one will find Portuguese Jose Goncalves, Mamadu Samba Cande (Sambinha) and Uruguayan Martin Diaz.

CELEBRITY SPEAK

Suranjoy Singh

(Boxer-turned-boxing coach; former Asian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist; Arjuna Award winner)

Football is my favourite game. I follow NorthEast United FC as it is a good team. Last season, it played really well to beat every team before losing steam. It could not maintain its momentum and lost in the later half of the League.

I like ISL and hope that the expanded format will help produce better quality matches. Since the League is longer, there will be more gap between matches and there will be enough rest for the players.

During the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, we got a taste of quality football. Even the Indian team, which played with five players from my state, Manipur, performed well. The overall change is towards improvement in the quality of the game.

I am yet to have a look at the changes in the NEUFC this season. Since I am busy coaching my wards — two of them won silver medals in the recently-concluded National Championship in Visakhapatnam — I have not yet made any plans to watch the NEUFC matches in Guwahati. There is time and I can think over it.

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