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I-League 2018‑19 Preview: NEROCA FC

The NEROCA FC squad for the 18/19 season. Photo Courtesy: @NerocaFC/Twitter
The NEROCA FC squad for the 18/19 season.
Photo Courtesy: @NerocaFC/Twitter

North Eastern Re-Organising Cultural Association sounds like an organization which looks after their local arts and culture. Instead, NEROCA FC is all about maintaining the footballing heritage of Manipur.

The state continues to produce footballers for the country. Surprisingly, NEROCA is the first club to participate in any of the top flight Indian leagues.

Background

After a second-place finish in their debut season, the Manipur club retained most of the local players to maintain the core of the team. Their foreign recruits are no strangers to Indian football with the likes of Katsumi Yusa, Eduardo Ferreira, and Varney Kallon in their ranks.

Goalkeeper Lalit Thapa will retain his captaincy, while Eduardo and Varney will lead the backline. Thangjam Singh will man the midfield as a box-to-box midfielder.

Katsumi Yusa will provide width and an attacking threat on the wings. Felix Chidi is expected to lead the line after the departure of Turkovic at the end of last season. st season.

NEROCA prepared for the new season in Kolkata and played a handful of pre-season matches against the local clubs.

NEROCA FC

The Gaffer

NEROCA thrived under the watchful eye of Gift Raikhan for three seasons, which culminated in a second-place finish in the 2017/18 season. However, his departure to Aizawl FC left the team management with a dilemma.

They had an option to rope in a manager who understands the local football culture or seek for a man with experience in Europe and implement his ideas.

Why not both?

NEROCA hired Manuel Retamero Fraile. The Spaniard has coaching experience with multiple youths and lower league teams in Spain, Libya, and the United States. He arrived in the Indian football scene in 2015 as manager of Aizawl FC.

He won the Mizoram Premier League and finished runners-up at the Federation Cup. However, the four points in six matches in the I-League led to his sacking in February 2016.

During Retamaro’s tenure, Aizawl played attacking football, relying on heavy possession of the ball. This aspect would have caught the eye of the NEROCA management to approach the Spaniard. He was overlooking the affairs at Ulaanbaatar FC in the Mongolian Premier League, where he managed a second-place finish.

Player Watch

Katsumi Yusa: The Japanese winger is no stranger to Indian football. NEROCA FC is his fifth Indian club in the country after stints with ONGC, NorthEast United and the two Kolkata giants – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

Varney Kallon: The Liberian was adjudged the best defender of the 2017/18 I-League season. A daunting presence at the back, NEROCA will depend on Kallon’s form, should they aim to better last year’s results.

What to Expect

NEROCA exceeded expectations with a second-place finish in their debut season. But with Minerva, the other debutant, winning the league, the players and the management would be left wondering of what might have been.

They took the fight until the last game of the campaign. This season will not be an exception. NEROCA is expected to fight hard and look for glory.

The task will be harder this time around as their opponents will treat them with respect and provide stiff opposition. One can expect a boisterous home crowd to egg on their local team to scale new heights.

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