ISL 2015: Will this be the season North East United FC turns potential into reality?

By Sreya Mazumder

North East United FC — the club with the largest fan-base in the Indian Super League — will aim to do justice to the hefty expectations of football lovers of eight Northeastern states of the nation. The franchise which finished with the wooden spoon last year has undergone changes at every level to showcase a better brand of football and achieve positive results.

A Recap of Last Season

The Highlanders started their campaign with a win against eventual finalists Kerala Blasters, but failed to garner any sort of momentum throughout the group stage. Ricki Herbert’s side finished with just three wins and six draws, as goal-scoring chances were hard to come by and the defence looked wobbly. Even with the services of the 2010 World Cup winner Joan Capdevila and one of the stand-out performers of last season Rehenesh TP, North East United FC fell short on most aspects of the game.

 ISL 2015: Will this be the season North East United FC turns potential into reality?

North East United FC have revamped this season and look set to entertain the huge fan base. Photo: @NEUtdFC

The lack of experience was visible in a squad with an average age of only 22 years. And the team unsurprisingly failed to withstand the pressure mounting after every loss. Individual errors and tactical gaffes led the franchise to concede goals in the last 20 minutes of the game on as many as five occasions.

Cesar Farias – An Experienced Campaigner

Cesar Farias took over the reins of the John Abraham-owned club and has brought in wholesale changes to the entire squad set-up. The 42-year-old Venezuelan who led the Plainsmen to the semi-finals of the 2011 Copa America arrives with an impressive resumé. Farias appears to be the perfect choice for leading the young squad, which has several Indian and international players in their early 20s, to glory.

Strengths

North East United FC have brought in Lalthammuawia Ralte, Bengaluru FC’s star goalkeeper during the previous season of the I-League. Combined with their Keralite discovery, Rehenesh TP, the Highlanders undoubtedly have the best goalkeeping squad among all clubs this season.

The acquisitions of Seityasen Singh and Boithang Haokip bolsters the wide midfield position for Farias’ side. While Singh was one of the highly sought after players during the auction, eventually joining the Highlanders for a sum of Rs 56 lakh, Haokip is a renowned dead-ball specialist. In Alan Deory, North East United FC have raw pace and technical ability, which makes the youngster suited for a role as an impact substitute. Siam Hengal, Bruno Herrera and Kondwani Mtonga will form a formidable central midfield while Sanju Pradhan’s addition brings in proven quality. Kondwani Mtonga was particularly impressive for the franchise last season – his aerial ability and ball distribution making the Zambian a crucial component of the squad.

One of North East United FC’s biggest flaws last season were their inability to score goals. Cesar Farias and the board have ensured that is no longer a point of contention this season. Nicolas Velez, the ambidextrous Argentine is a natural goalscorer and his quick instincts in front of the goal will contribute to the club’s chances. North East United FC also have some able back-up forwards in Boubacar Sanogo and Diomansy Kamara.

Weaknesses

In spite of bringing in several key players, North East United FC retained seven of their Indian players from last season. A dearth of big names, especially among the Indian contingent is a recurring theme for the franchise, one which could prove to be a costly gamble. Inexperience hurt the franchise’s fortunes last season and North East United FC could face a similar problem this season, unless the likes of Seityasen Singh, Boithang Haokip and Nicolas Velez play to their potential.

The club’s marquee signing Simao Sabrosa is a known name in the international footballing circuit but the 35-year-old hasn’t played a competitive game in over a year. The former Barcelona winger last appeared for Espanyol in the 2013/14 season. In spite of possessing banks of experience, fitness could be an issue for the former Portuguese international.

Projected Line-up

Lalthuammawia Ralte is expected to start in goal, although the Bengaluru FC goalie could face stiff competition from Rehenesh TP. Aiborlang Khongjee, Reagan Singh, Robin Gurung and Yumnam Raju are the favourites to start in the defence with Kondwani Mtonga, Siang Hanghal and Boithang Haokip in the central midfield. Sanju Pradhan and Seityasen Singh are the probable wide forwards, with Nicolas Velez being the likely candidate for striker’s position.

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Updated Date: Oct 06, 2015 12:42:03 IST