ISL 2016: NorthEast United coach Nelo Vingada's stubbornness cost team a semifinal spot
In the third season as well, the NorthEast United have failed to do justice to the expectations of the football lovers that unconditionally give their hundred percent in every match. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the coach and the players.
The first team NorthEast United faced in the 2016 Indian Super League season was Kerala Blasters. At the time, people associated with the club in any capacity, from aficionados to the management to the players wouldn’t have predicted or hoped that Kerala would also be the last team they face in the tournament. As it turned out, it proved to be the case as NorthEast United bowed out after the league stage.
The Highlanders have never qualified for the semifinals of the tournament, and naturally, coach Nelo Vingada who was the second manager to get the managerial job even before the league began, was expected to take his side to the business end of the league.
Although, it has been a mostly disappointing season for the Guwahati side. After a brilliant start to an incredibly busy run of fixtures, NorthEast’s performances declined as the fixtures eased up. They went an astonishing six games without a win. In a 14-game tournament, that makes for almost half the season. It was incredible and points to the low quality of a new league that despite the barren run, they were in contention for a spot in the semifinal till their last league game.
New life was breathed into the campaign after their draw against Atletico de Kolkata in the Eastern derby at Kolkata. After that, the side won two games and got an encouraging draw against Chennayin. It eventually came down to the last game of the campaign against Kerala Blasters. They lost the game 1-0 against the “Yellow Army” who is dominant at home.
When John Abraham and company reflect on the campaign, they would see a few problematic features. Coach Nelo Vingada was appointed for his pragmatism and primarily his vast experience. However, over the course of the season, his performances left a lot to be desired as he didn’t fix the problems that were evident, and consequently, the team didn’t collect points because of the the same problems crept up over and over again. It is understandable not to change a winning formula but to not do it when the team is clearly struggling, defies logic.
Vingada didn’t do anything different to aid NorthEast's struggle for goals. The biggest predicament for the Highlanders was the lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. The side’s early performances showed that they wouldn’t be dependent on one man to get the goals as Nicolas Velez, Emiliano Alfaro and Katsumi Yusa quickly formed a beautiful chemistry in the attacking third of the pitch. But the goals weren’t shared between players. With five goals, Emiliano Alfaro finished with the most goals for the side and the joint second most in the league, alongside seven other players. That was more than one-third of the team's goals.
Some people would point to Velez and Alfaro’s absence for the same, but good coaches are prepared for absentees and derive results from the existing personnel. Ambitious and gutsy coaches try brave and different things to try to overturn a rot. Vingada proved he was neither.
Indian starlets Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Lallianzuala Chhangte were roped in during the summer, much to the delight of Indian football fans. For a team that has been known for giving Indian youngsters a chance, much was expected from the two of them in their first stint in the Indian Super League. Of course, they wouldn’t have been starting every match, but they should have at least got a chance to feature for the team and prove their worth. Both these former Liverpool trainees got one substitute appearance each, that lasted less than 20 minutes. The reluctance to give them a chance, especially when the senior players weren’t getting the desired results, seems remarkably flawed now.
Another questionable tactic of his was the insistence on making his team sit back after getting a goal ahead. They won three games by a 1-0 margin, something that would validate the Portuguese manager’s thinking if they didn’t drop points in 4 games where they just got the one goal. Trying to sit back and protect a one-goal lead is always a dangerous proposition. The opponent always has a shot at getting something out of the game, and that's what happened against Atletico de Kolkata and FC Goa, with both scoring late winners. It cost NorthEast crucial points, with the help of which they would have qualified for the semifinals. This is merely a hypothesis. What is a fact is that the defensive style of play didn’t work for NorthEast all season and Vingada didn’t change things till too late.
There were a few positives for the side, but 24-year-old Rowllin Borges putting on some fantastic performances in the middle of the park was one of them. He gave his team some steel in the midfield, and alongside Romaric, who was undoubtedly the player of the season for the Highlanders, demonstrated his class on more than one occasion. With his all-action play, Borges offers a lot of energy and keeps the tempo of the game up. He shields the back four but can move up the pitch and get the goals too. The Indian national side would be encouraged by his performances. The midfield duo of Borges and Romaric was perhaps the sole thing that consistently worked for NorthEast, and these two should be kept away from other teams next season. It would be bizarre for the franchise not to retain their services.
NorthEast United fans enjoy one of the most fantastic fan base in the country. They are the only side that gets support all around India and their fans make sure they turn up wherever their adored team is playing.
In the third season as well, the NorthEast team has failed to do justice to the expectations of the football lovers that unconditionally give their hundred percent in every match. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the coach and the players.
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