I-League 2018/19: Neroca FC season preview, Squad, Probable XI, Prediction
The 12th edition of I-League kicks off from 26th October. Neroca FC, who made their debut last year, will be hoping to get better than their runners-up finish last season.
Neroca, who were impressive throughout the season, fought till the last match but had to finish behind Minerva Punjab FC, another debutant and eventual winners. The Manipur club finished with 32 points from 18 matches, three short of Punjab.
Despite being a state that produced so many talented footballers, there was no club from Manipur to play in any of the top flight Indian league.
Manipur filled the gap when they won the second division I-League in 2016-17 and qualified to participate in the top division. This was a huge boost for the Manipuri people who thronged to the stadium on every match. Neroca had maximum average supporters last season.
Neroca prepared for the new season in Kolkata and played few pre-season matches against the local clubs.
Neroca FC Squad
Neroca retained almost the same number of local players from the last season but made few changes in their foreigners. Nedu Turkovic, Fabian Vorbe and Nick Ward were shown doors.
This time, Neroca acquired foreigners who have proper experience in the league. Take the example of Katsumi Yusa.
The Japanese attacking midfielder played for Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, also a stint with ISL club NorthEast United FC in between, before joining Neroca.
Brazil-born Eduardo Ferreira also joined from East Bengal, along with Sebastian Thangmuansang from FC Pune City, which bolstered their defence.
They have also hired Italian goalkeeper Mauro Boerchio, despite having regular starter Lalit Thapa.
Goalkeepers: Lalit Thapa, Mauro Boerchio, Loitongbam Bishorjit Singh, Golmei Dihempu Rongmei.
Defenders: Rojen Meitei, Moirangthem Dhananjoy Singh, Eduardo Ferreira, Varney Kallon, Moirangmayum Ashok Singh, Sebastian Thangmuansang, Naocha Huildrom, Denechanrda Meitei, Mohammed Abdul Salam, Chingakham Roshan Singh.
Midfielders: Ronald Singh, Naorem Tondomba Singh, Subhash Singh, Malemngamba Meitei, Sushil Meitei, Thokchom Johnson Singh, Thangjam Singh, Aryn Williams, Biaklian Paite.
Forwards: Jerry Pulamte, Katsumi Yusa, Felix Chidi Odili, Surjakanta Tongbram, Ngangom Ronald Singh, Gunajit Singh, Manglem Meitei.
Neroca FC Coach
After three years in charge of the club, that includes a promotion in the I-League and finishing second, Gift Raikhan left Neroca for Aizawl FC.
In order to maintain the same intensity, Neroca hired former Aizawl FC coach Manuel Retamero Fraile from Mongolian top division club Ulaanbaatar FC.
Under Retamero, Aizawl finished as low as eighth among the nine teams in 2015-16 and were relegated. But what caught the eye was their attacking football and by virtue of that, they finished runners-up in the Federation Cup that year.
Retamero wants to replicate the same kind of football with Neroca. During a recent chat with the I-League official website, Retamero said, “I always like my teams to keep possession of the ball and play the game in an entertaining manner. If you don’t have the ball, you do not score goals. That is why I want my team to keep possession, score goals and win matches.”
Neroca FC probable XI
Captain Lalit Thapa is expected to start as a goalkeeper. But there will be a few changes in their defensive line-up. Eduardo and Varney are expected to take the centre-back role, with Moirangmayum and Sebastian on either side.
Former ATK player Ronald Singh and Thangjam Singh are expected to play as a defensive mideo. Thangjam is very useful in that position and can play as a box-to-box midfielder also.
New signing Katsumi Yusa is expected to take the left wing, with Malemngamba Memtei on the right side. The central midfield role might be occupied by Aryn Williams, who got little game time last season.
Despite scoring nine goals, Neroca released Turkovic at the end of the last season. This time, Felix Chidi should come up and take the goal-scoring. He found the back of the net seven times last season.
A runners-up finish in their debut I-League is something that no one expected last season, especially when the league has perennial favourites like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
Neroca held East Bengal in both their games and lost to Mohun Bagan at home despite fighting their hearts out.
This season will not be an exception. Neroca is expected to fight hard and look for ultimate glory. But the task will be harder this time. There will be 10 other teams this time and each poses an equal challenge for them.
Just like every year, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are expected to vie for glory, along with defending champion, Minerva. Considering the team and experience they have, it is impossible for them to finish within the top three.