NorthEast United finished at the bottom for the second time in 4 years. New manager Eelco Schattorie stated that “the Taj Mahal was not built in a day and if you want to build something, it takes time.”
With their backs against the walls, the only way for the Highlanders is forward.
The 2017/18 campaign was a disaster for NorthEast United. They finished at the bottom of the table and managed to score only 12 goals, the lowest in the league.
This year they aim to address their shortcomings in front of goal with the signings of Juan Cruz Mascia, Federico Gallego, and Bartholomew Ogbeche. Meanwhile, they aim to boost their defense with the twin signing of Mato Grgić and Mislav Komorski from Croatian team, Inter Zaprešić.
Closer home, they retained core players from North East India like Fanai Lalrempuia and Reagan Singh, while drafting in exciting youngsters like Kivi Zhimomi and Provat Kakra.
More importantly, NorthEast United has acquired the services of Eelco Schattorie as manager, while Avram Grant moved to the role of a technical advisor.
After the cancellation of their pre-season tour of Sweden, the Highlanders had to contend with pre-season matches against lower league clubs and I-League teams like Minerva Punjab and NEROCA.
Dutchman Eelco Schattorie is no stranger to Indian football. He was the head coach of I-League side, Prayag United (now United S.C.) between 2012-14 before moving to East Bengal in 2015. After an unsatisfactory season, Schattorie moved to Saudi Arabia for his fourth stint at Pro League side Al-Ettifaq as the caretaker coach where he saved the team from relegation in 2017.
He then returned to India as assistant to Avram Grant with NorthEast United before taking on the role of a head coach.
Players to watch
Bartholomew Ogbeche: The Nigerian international striker joined the Highlanders after four years at the Eredivisie. He has also plied his trade at Ligue 1, La Liga, and the English Championship, among others.
Juan Cruz Mascia: The former Uruguay u-17 player was compared to Diego Forlan after U-17 World Cup in 2011. Premier League clubs like Chelsea were reportedly interested in signing the striker. Seven years later, with limited opportunities, the 24-year old decided to revive his career in India. Big and strong, he will give Schattorie an option up front.
NorthEast United will start their campaign at home against Goa on Oct. 1, where they will hope to earn a point or more. Three days later they play ATK in Kolkata. Another tough away fixture follows after a two-week break at Chennai on the Oct. 18. They return to Guwahati to host Jamshedpur a week later.
Five days later they face Delhi Dynamos at Delhi on Oct. 30. A home match against Mumbai on Nov. 9 is followed by another home game against Kerala on Nov. 23. Four days later they face Pune away from home.
The Highlanders have a tough 8 days as they face Jamshedpur (A), Bengaluru (H), and ATK (H) between Dec. 1-8. NorthEast United would seek to take advantage of the early home fixtures. The schedule offers Schattorie and Co enough time to prepare for their visitors.
The NorthEast team wants to get rid of the ignominy of being the only team that that has failed to qualify for the playoffs. The Highlanders would bank on Schattorie’s experience to set up the team and pose a threat to other teams at home.
In order to break into the top four, they will need to fix their away form. They have only managed five wins in four seasons. It will also help their cause if their home attendance improves for the better.