Shillong Lajong FC will have no foreigners for the upcoming I-League season, Goal can reveal.
The Reds of the North-East had four foreigners when they began their 2017-18 I-League crusade but the management has decided against making any overseas signings this time around.
In fact, it is understood that the club will be continuing with nearly the same squad that is currently competing in the Shillong Premier League (SPL) 2018.
"We are in the senior division of the Shillong Premier League and we want to play with Indian players," Lajong coach Alison Kharsyntiew confirmed.
"I know it is going to be a huge challenge, but as a coach I have to work hard and believe in the team. The players have to do the same with a belief in themselves," he stated.
On queried as to whether the club might sign foreigners in January if they struggle in the first half of the season, the former academy coach of the side replied, "We haven't discussed about that. In the mean time, we will go all out with Indian players."
Alison Kharsyntiew has the experience of leading the youngsters at Lajong since 2012 and also had a couple of assistant coach roles with the senior team. Last season, he was promoted as the head coach after Bobby Nongbet left the club midway. They finished sixth in the I-League and reached the quarterfinals of the Super Cup.
Interestingly, the average age of the squad will be below 19. However, Kharsyntiew believes his team has maturity, given their preparations in the SPL 2018.
"Last year most of the boys already gained some experience (in the I-League). I hope that will help them for this season. We have also been preparing well in the Shillong Premier League," he mentioned.
"First of all, I want my players to play good football. As a coach, I won't aim low. If we get into the top five, it will be a huge achievement for us."
The club has promoted a handful of players from the 2018 U-18 Youth League-winning side including the likes of Kynsailang Khongsit, one of the scorers in the 2-0 win over Kerala Blasters in the final, and Phrangi Buam who had scored a brace in the semifinal against East Bengal.
This is, however, a continuation of the trend from last season when nine academy products debuted with the senior team.
"We have promoted some players from the youth team. Most of the boys (11) are from the squad which won the U-18 I-League. We have some senior players like (Aibankupar) Dohling, Samuela (Lalmuanpuia), Phurba (Lalchempa) who are all below 22 (with the exception of Dohling - 22)," Kharsyntiew stated.
The oldest player in the squad, Rakesh Pradhan, is 25. Although only three players from the present squad of 21 players are above the age of 20.
The Lajong coach has stressed that his charges need motivation more than anything else to have a successful season.
"Our boys should not get over-excited. At the same time, they have come out from the ranks of the (U-18) youth team to be mature enough as players now. All they need is some motivation in order to concentrate. What they don't need right now is (excessive) criticism. The more motivation, the more encouragement and I think they are going to do it right," he observed.
Considering the age of the boys, the physique was always going to be an issue for Lajong. But the coach claims that the club has made sure that they have tall enough personnel deployed at the back, though the midfielders and forwards may appear to be shorter in stature.
"In football, there are always advantages and disadvantages. We just have to work hard to overcome our shortcomings against the other teams who have foreigners in their side," Kharsyntiew commented.
The club will start their I-League campaign with a derby against Aizawl FC on October 28.