It is impossible to kick off a NorthEast United FC season preview without turning the focus on its passionate supporters. For every game, every season, every match around the country, fans from the region have made their presence felt but they have not been sufficiently rewarded.
NorthEast United finished at the bottom of the league table in the first year and although there were some encouraging performances last season, they could not qualify for the semifinals. For fans from the region, failure to qualify will be a huge disappointment.
So why has the team been unable to finish among the top four?
Nobody can say for sure. But one thing is certain: NorthEast United FC are determined to turn the table this season and achieve their target of first qualifying and then securing the title.
If past performances are any indication, there is hope for NorthEast United FC. When Atletico de Kolkata hosted the opening match in 2014, they finished as champions and last season Chennaiyin FC emerged winners of the second edition after hosting the opening match!
That sounds encouraging but the Guwahati franchise did not start promisingly this season as they were rocked by the departure of Coach Sergio Farias even before he took charge. The club signed Farias as coach in May but just two months later, he decided to head back to his former club, Suphanburi FC of Thailand. NorthEast were taken aback by the brazenness of that move but moved quickly to appoint Portuguese manager Nelo Vingada.
Vingada may have been second choice for NorthEast United but who knows he could end up as the best. A coach with 35 years of experience at the highest level, the “Professor” took Saudi Arabia to the 1996 AFC Asian Cup triumph and helped the Gulf nation qualify for the World Cup in 1998.
A look at the team
On the field too NorthEast United have had to grapple with setbacks. All seemed fine for them until two of their major signings Sasha Aneff and Fabio Neves, both from Uruguay, picked up injuries and will now miss the start of their campaign.
NorthEast need not worry too much. For the first time the franchise selected domestic players from outside the region and the clutch of players that they have signed – Subrata Paul, Rowlin Borges, Shouvik Ghosh and Sumeet Passi – can bring in new dynamism, besides providing an enviable set of options for the coach in every department.
Their problem last season was largely with goals, or the lack of it, as apart from Argentinean striker Nicolas Velez, they had little else to count upon. Emiliano Alfaro is nursing an injury but the team could fall back on the services of Katsumi Yusa, the Japanese attacking midfielder who scored 27 goals for Mohun Bagan in the last three years.
Even at the back, NorthEast United will spot a solid look. Brazilian defender Mailson Alves has been sourced from champions Chennaiyin FC and he will be joined at the back by another Brazilian, Gustavo Lazzaretti. Wellington De Lima Gomes will be the first choice goalkeeper and the Brazilian can hope for support even much ahead of him as marquee Didier Zokoro – last year with FC Pune City -- is renowned for his defensive abilities when playing in midfield.
At least on paper, NorthEast United FC look as good as anyone else. With Vingada as coach, you can expect the team to play more direct, more pressing from the front and have greater intensity all round. The crowd will no doubt throw their full weight behind them and that should be sufficient for Vingada to do what no manager has done before.Published 30 Sep 2016, 16:26 IST