NorthEast United FC have made it to the play-offs of the Indian Super League despite not starting off as favourites. At the beginning of the season, the Highlanders boss Eelco Schattorie stated that he cannot transform a Mini Cooper into a Ferrari, pointing out the fact that his team lacks quality.
The Dutchman has now hailed his team for making it to the knockouts but maintained that they have not been playing good football.
“Ferrari has a high performance and abilities that other cars don’t have. I think we reached a certain level of achievement but I won’t call it a Ferrari. There are certain parts of the game where I want us to be at a higher level. I’m talking about dominating the game, etc. I would like the level of football to be higher," the Dutchman said on the eve of the clash.
“I think the last 10 to 12 games, I’m trying to fit a puzzle and I’m frustrated. Even for tomorrow’s game, I have a puzzle. We have only 16 players, we got another red card in the last game and we have some other issues. So, if you look at our achievements, they are fantastic,” he said.
When asked about what has changed this season, Schattorie pointed out that the team is now defensively organised and the players are working harder. He said, “But I wish I had a little more choice going into this game. I was only here for the last few games as an assistant coach last season. What we have done different this season is that we have tried to build a strong foundation defensively. As a team, we have worked for each other and we did the dirty work."
“I can give you the example of Redeem Tlang who joined us from I-League club Shillong Lajong. He never played on a high level but started almost every game for us as a winger. He learnt how to play in an organisation and stick to his role. He can still pick in some goals and assists in the future or in the upcoming games," Schattorie continued.
“Other clubs have a deeper squad and wider opportunities. I hate it when people say that I’m just making excuses. It’s simple statistic, we rely on Bartholomew (Ogbeche) and (Federeico) Gallego and one Indian (Rowllin Borges) for the goals. This is not a criticism, I mean to say that our results are due to defensive organisation and high work-rate. We played good football when I had the perfect 11 players at my disposal.
“There are too many names (injuries and suspensions). I have too many problems. But whoever is going on the field will surely fight, work hard and play for the badge on their shirt. Last league game against Kerala we rested a few players and played a 4-4-2 diamond. That could be another possibility tomorrow. I hope we will be able to get the result tomorrow.”
The Dutchman spoke highly of Rowllin Borges and praised the midfielder’s versatility. He stated, “There are two things I like as a coach – one is to find the flaws in the opponents and the other is to fit a team together. I like searching for certain qualities in players. When it comes to Borges, he has high dynamics. Last week he played at right-back and he did a fantastic job."
"He is multi-functional. He can score goals too. I feel that he fits best in a 4-3-3 as an attacking midfielder, than in a 4-2-3-1 where he has to be a holding midfielder. Also, he is always in the right spot during passes and crosses.”
Schattorie is well aware of the quality of the opposition and termed Bengaluru as the “best club in India”. Though he is aware that the game on Thursday will be hard, the Dutchman believes that his team were better over the two legs in the league phase and can be confident of beating the visitors.
“I think that Bengaluru have existed five years now. In those five years, they have always been at the top. So, any coach who has been at Bengaluru came into a club that’s well-structured and well-organised. They have a lot of good players. In these five years, they have won the I-League twice, qualified for the Indian Super League play-offs twice and even reached the finals," he explained.
“They’re a fantastic club, I think that they’re the best club in India. That means we will be facing good players. We played them twice and both times we played really well. They got away here in the last minute of extra time. In their home, we should have won. We came 1-0 behind from a set-piece and then we made it 1-1. We created a lot of chances that day but again conceded through a set-piece.
“I think that Goa and Bengaluru have more quality. But Mumbai and we make the best out of the quality we have.”
Schattorie is unfazed by the fact that his team will be playing the home leg first and believes that both the teams will face the pros and cons of a two-legged tie.
“It doesn’t matter to me (playing first leg at home). Because at the moment, I have other worries. You need to play at home and away. I don’t think about any advantages. Our team is ready to win and if we win here, then it’s more pressure on them. If we lose here, it will be more pressure for us in an away game. There is an angle to look at, it can be both a disadvantage and an advantage. I don’t think it will matter,” he concluded.