Indian Super League

ISL 2018-19: NorthEast United overly reliant on foreign players?

06:51 EAT 15/09/2018
Seityasen Singh NorthEast United FC Delhi Dynamos FC ISL season 3 2016
The Highlanders have assembled a squad that has good foreigners but not enough Indians who are of first-team quality...

Ahead of the fifth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), the supporters of NorthEast United will be hoping that the club will make full use of this crucial pre-season period. 

That is because the club endured a torrid time in the league last season. The Highlanders' gameplan ridiculously backfired as they tumbled down to the bottom of the table within the first few rounds of the league and failed to climb up the ladder. 

Sitting at the 10th spot on the table when the league game to a close, NorthEast United had won only one three out of 18 matches. And the painful end to the season has forced an almost complete rebuilding of the squad.

In September last year, the club had announced all of their foreign contingent in one post on social media. And by the end of the season, none of them managed to make an impact for the club. 

However, the issue of foreign player recruitment seems to have been addressed by the club. Former PSG forward Bartholomew Ogbeche, Juan Cruz Mascia, Jose David Leudo are all good additions to the squad. The Croatian defensive duo of Mato Grgic and Mislav Komorski can be a vital part of the Highlanders backline this season. 

But with the foreign player department looking stacked and ready to fire, the lack of experience among the Indian players in the squad is a cause for concern for Eelco Schattorie and his team. 

While a lot of research and planning seems to have gone into the recruitment of foreign players, the same does not seem to be the case for Indian players. 

In the club's four-year history, Indian players have failed to make an impact. Only Seimenlen Doungel (4 goals in 2017-18) and Seityasen Singh (2 goals in 2016) have scored more than one goal for them in an ISL season so far. Doungel will be playing for Kerala Blasters this season while Seityasen is injured. 

Apart from Rowllin Borges and Seityasen Singh, there are no other Indian players who can demand consistent first-team minutes. The likes of Doungel, Nirmal Chettri, Halicharan Narzary and Lalrindika Ralte have all parted ways. 

Among the new recruits, Provat Lakra played reasonably well for Gokulam Kerala in the I-League but at 21 years old, that was his first major stint at the top level. The likes of Gurwinder Singh and Robert Lalthlamuana are experienced campaigners but can they hold the fort against a quality attack?

Nikhil Kadam is set for a debut season in ISL after a decent season at Bagan. The likes of Redeem Tlang, Rupert Nongrum and Kivi Zhimomi have the potential but they are yet to hit their peak. Girik Khosla is coming off a title-winning season with Minerva Punjab but again, this is a step up for him as a player. 

The current composition of the NorthEast United squad is a mix of good foreign players with several talented yet inexperienced Indians. Eelco Schattorie will be tasked with motivating these young players and using them in a way that they don't buckle under pressure. NorthEast United need game-changing players and at the moment, there aren't any. 

Considering that the method of recruiting low-profile Indian players has not worked for the club in the last four seasons, was it the right move to not ditch that ideology? Only time will tell but NorthEast United cannot afford another failure.