ISL 2019-20: 5 ways NorthEast United can improve next season

NorthEast United
NorthEast United
Alby Issac

After four long seasons, NorthEast United played their first-ever ISL playoffs under Eelco Schattorie last year. Their dream run finally came to an end when Bengaluru FC got the better of the Highlanders by a 4-2 aggregate score in the playoffs. Thus, the team signed off with a lot of expectations for the next term.

However, today, NorthEast United have again slumped to the bottom, with only 13 points from 17 outings, just like their previous four terms, thereby doubting the Schattorie era as a one-season wonder.

The Highlanders have won only two games this season, against Odisha FC and Hyderabad FC, both before the 6th of November. They are on a thirteen-match winless streak and were hindered by an injury to Ghanian legend Asamoah Gyan. The consecutive disappointments forced the management to sack Robert Jarni, and the team is currently under Khalid Jameel.

The Croatian coach had always been under pressure and things never looked settled under him. Though the team secured eight points from the first four matches, the Highlanders remained bereft of excellence and sustainability in the long run.

With a forgetful season almost done and dusted, it is high time the management start preparations for the upcoming campaign. Now, we look at five things the John Abraham co-owned club can do to come up with an improved performance next season.

#5 Better Indian player recruitment

Subhasish Roy
Subhasish Roy

While NorthEast have a promising set of young players in their roster, they have faced a setback coming to experienced domestic campaigners. Subhasish Roy Choudhary, the oldest Indian player in the side, leads the chart of most saves (55) this season. The club also boasts talented young names like Ninthoi, Lalengmawia, and Lalthathanga.

However, the club have failed to sign a match-winning and experienced Indian player, thereby leading to overdependence on foreign recruits. By the time Asamoah Gyan had been ruled out for the season, the Highlanders had scored nine goals, four coming from the Ghanian.

With Martin Chaves the only attacker who can fill in as a striker, the management had no option but to sign two foreign players, with the likes of Andy Keogh and Simon Lundevall joining the club recently. Federico Gallego's absence due to injury in the first phase of the season also harmed the club's overall performance.

If NorthEast United had a prolific goal-scoring Indian player in addition to Redeem Tlang (3 goals), the side could have racked up a few crucial points. Thus, the club's lazy pre-season backfired as they lacked experience and depth in their Indian personnel.

An Indian player, accustomed to the highs and lows of the league, would be the perfect match for NorthEast United's upcoming campaign.

#4 Regain fan support

Highlander Brigade
Highlander Brigade

There is no doubt that fans have played a pivotal role in every football club's history. While the supporters stay with their heroes in bad times, continuous failures often take away the spectators permanently.

NorthEast United have had a similar story to tell in their Indian Super League run so far. The club had an average attendance of 28,000+ in the inaugural season and was followed by 24000+ in the next. However, the seasons that came by saw a gradual drop in numbers in the stands. The fans started drifting away from the club, all due to back-to-back disappointments.

In the previous season, when NorthEast United played their first-ever ISL playoff, the Highlander Brigade, came out in full support of their favourite club. But, the management failed to retain the services of manager Eelco Schattorie and all-time top scorer Bartholomew Ogbeche even after open requests from the fan groups.

These, when combined with the defeats this season, made the supporters speak up against the management and declare a boycott of home games. A meeting with the management assured the fans that a solution was on the cards, but it remains to be seen whether the officials keep their word.

The best thing NorthEast United can do in pre-season would be to win back the lost support of their fans. A hopeful managerial appointment and few good signings will bring back the supporters to the stands. Any club today would be aware of the role played by their fans and would do everything possible to make their home advantage count.

#3 A proper midfield general


The midfield has been a disorganized part on the field for the Guwahati-based club and requires immediate action.

Though Federico Gallego completes the attacking duties to link up with the strikers, the rearguard has been missing more often than not. Jose Leudo, in charge of the central midfield, has been a wanting presence in the defensive areas, at times.

Ever since Rowllin Borges left for Mumbai City, NorthEast have missed the services of a silent midfielder capable of winning possession, covering spaces, and lodging through balls. Jarni had experimented with several players at the holding midfielder position but could yield little success.

Lalengmawia and Leudo were often the central midfielders, but the latter failed to compensate for the former's inexperience. The 19-year-old debutant had an average of above 43 passes per game but needs experience.

Thus, a free-moving midfielder with the experience to control the tempo of the game should be an inevitable addition to the NEUFC camp ahead of the next season.

#2 A goalscoring duo

Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego
Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego

NorthEast United have never been a threatening attacking presence ever in the ISL. Except for the 2018-19 season when Bartholomew Ogbeche racked up a dozen goals, NorthEast have always had trouble finding the back of the net.

In the 2018-19 season, Ogbeche scored twelve and was followed by Federico Gallego with four goals and five assists, and Rowllin Borges with four goals and two assists. However, NEUFC have lacked a similar combination this term.

When Federico Gallego was fully fit and recovered, Asamoah Gyan was sidelined and later out with injury. The duo that didn't go well could alone turn around fortunes for the Highlanders.

Two goal-scoring strikers capable of interchanging roles will bolster the team's prowess in attack. A duo like Coro-Boumous or Krishna-Williams, when combined with a dangerous feeder like Gallego, will make NorthEast's attack line threatening. NorthEast staying at the bottom of the goal-scoring charts is due to their underperforming frontline.

After Gyan left, no player could take up the scoring duties as Gallego, Jose Leudo, Andy Keogh, and Martin Chaves couldn't go past one goal. With Lundevall failing to find the back of the net, troubles were numerous for NorthEast to carry forward.

#1 A coach with prior Indian experience

Eelco Schattorie
Eelco Schattorie

Robert Jarni was a Croatian coach not prepared for an Indian challenge. The tactician had a terrible season reaching nowhere near his predecessor. In the transition phase of the league, with even the structure to undergo major revamps, a coach with a prior acquaintance of Indian football would be the perfect fit for NorthEast United.

Eelco Schattorie, with a previous stint at East Bengal, was a never-before success at the club. Interestingly, the team have never appointed a full-time coach with prior Indian experience other than Schattorie.

If a gaffer with proven past in the Indian football circuit takes over, he would be able to settle in with ease. Minute details from pre-season and player recruitment to tight fixtures would be expected and prepared by an experienced appointee.

Hyderabad FC, who had sacked Phil Brown due to poor results were quick to act by securing the signature of Albert Roca. Similarly, NorthEast United too have to tackle time to get an apt successor for Jarni. Ashley Westwood, former Bengaluru FC head coach, looks a suitable candidate for the hot-seat in the NorthEast region.

Edited by Habil Ahmed Sherule
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