After four consecutive seasons of disappointment, Indian Super League (ISL) side NorthEast United FC finally managed to make it to the playoffs for the first time the club’s brief history.
In 2015 and 2016, the Highlanders came very close to making it among the top four teams but missed out by a whisker as they finished fifth. Until last season, they were the only ISL club who had never reached the play-offs.
But things changed drastically under the tutelage of Dutch coach Eelco Schattorie as the club exceeded expectations.
With a shallow squad without many star names, put together on a shoe-string budget, Schattorie did wonders with NorthEast United. They played some eye-catching football and performed consistently throughout.
Had star players Bartholomew Ogbeche and Rowllin Borges started in the semi-final second leg against Bengaluru FC or Federico Gallego not suffered an injury, the Highlanders could have defeated Bengaluru and made it to their maiden final.
After a memorable last season, the club decided to part ways with Eelco Schattorie, the man who had turned the club’s fortunes. They have replaced the Dutchman with former Croatian international Robert Jarni this year.
NorthEast United had a very ordinary Indian contingent last season. Other than Rowllin Borges they did not have any prominent Indian name in their squad. Hence, they were heavily dependent on the likes of Bartholomew Ogbeche, Federico Gallego, Juan Masica and Jose David Leudo.
This season along with Schattorie, NorthEast United lost their biggest star Bartholomew Ogbeche to Kerala Blasters. Ogbeche was the club’s highest scorer last season with 12 goals and his departure will be a big blow for the team.
But the management has already found an able replacement in former Ghanaian international Asamoah Gyan. The star striker is the most high profile signing of the ISL season six.
Gyan has a few more years left in his legs and is expected to perform well for the club. The performances of marquee players in ISL have always been questionable mostly due to the age factor.
The likes of Milan Singh and Wayne Waz will be expected to step in when required. In the foreigners' department, Martin Chaves and Maximiliano Barrero could prove to be vital cogs in Jarni's system.
With a quality overseas contingent and a young Indian brigade, the Highlanders will hope to eclipse their performance from last season and win the title.