NEFC aims to improve with new signings

Simao Sabrosa... the new dynamo for North East FC.-GETTY IMAGES

The coach has been changed and a marquee midfielder has come in after a disappointing first season. A look at the NorthEast team by Amitabha Das Sharma.

If one were to go by the intensity and passion with which football is followed and played in the country, the north-eastern region should score the highest. But when it came to performing in the inaugural Indian Super League, the North East United FC failed to replicate this fervour, finishing at the bottom of the table.

Before the second ISL season, there is a conspicuous effort from its promoter to avert a repeat of the fiasco and regain the faith and confidence of its fans. Compounding the tribulations of the franchise was an untimely divorce of the two notable partners, which saw the Bollywood actor John Abraham ploughing a lonely furrow as Larsing Ming Sawyan of Shillong Lajong FC decided to shun glamour and focus his attention on grassroots development. Given the circumstances, the team management has sought to re-align the squad for the new season.

The first step was getting a new coach and this saw the arrival of the charismatic Venezuelan Cesar Farias in place of New Zealand’s Ricki Herbert. Farias, who took the Venezuelan national team to new heights in a five-year stint with the side, has proclaimed to dispel the gloom by playing ‘happy football.’ The cheerfulness that Farias wishes to instil in the performance of the side depends on how the team’s new marquee player Simao Sabrosa — the Portuguese World Cup player and the team’s express attacker — acquits himself. Striking has been one area where the team fell into huge arrears, scoring only 11 goals in the 14 matches it played in the inaugural season.

This happened despite a preponderance of foreign strikers like James Keene (England), Koke (Spain), Leo Bertos (New Zealand), Luis Yanes (Colombia) and Cornell Glen (Trinidad and Tobago).

Sabrosa, a veteran in the business having played for top European clubs like Benfica, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid among others, would look to inspire the team in bringing together greater consistency in its attack. Sabrosa, a skilful winger, will don a playmaking role and marshal the team’s attack that will have the likes of Senegalese striker Diomansy Kasmara and the country’s own Holicharan Narzary. As the international players form a key ingredient in the team composition, with the tournament laws allowing six foreigners in a team, the franchise has made a handful of changes while retaining Portuguese defender Miguel Garcia and Zambian midfielder Kondwani Mtonga.

The list of newcomers is big as the team management sought to strike a balance in every department. The defence will have the Frenchman Cedric Hengbart partnering Garcia while Portuguese Silas joins Sabrosa and Mtonga in the midfield. A prominent absence this year will be the Spanish World Cup-winning defender Joan Capdevila, who was released for being unable to motivate the side.

There are still a few empty slots in the foreign quota as the team is looking for good replacements in the international market. But what could be made from the shopping done so far is the intent to rectify the wrongs of the previous season.

The team management has retained its faith on the north eastern players as was evident in the domestic player auction and draft this year. The arrival of the young Seityasen Singh, Reagan Singh and the seasoned Marlangki Suting from Royal Wahingdoh, which finished a creditable third in the I-League, will definitely add to the team’s strength.

There are more names like defender Zohmingliana Ralte (Pune FC), goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte, Siam Hanghal (both Bengaluru FC) and Sanju Pradhan who are among the new additions joining strength with the five Indians retained by the club — Rehenesh T. P., Aiborlang Khongjee, Robin Gurung, Boithang Haokip and Alen Deroy.