Almost a decade down the line, NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) is on a ‘course-correction’ as the club tries to involve the greener pastures in the Northeast region, beyond Guwahati, and reach out the larger resource pool.
Speaking to the media on September 21, NorthEast United FC CEO Mandar Tamhane said that they are trying to arrange two of their home games in the Indian Super League (ISL), in Shillong this season.
“By December the infrastructure should be ready in Shillong. We are expecting to play two of our home matches (of ISL) in Shillong this season. We are in discussion with the Meghalaya government, the ISL authorities and hopefully all stakeholders will come together. To play a match there, we need to plan for the broadcast facilities and other logistics. Hopefully, we will be able to play there,” Tamhane said, while emphasizing on the need to connect NorthEast United FC with the grassroots across the region.
“Maybe in the next year, we can even reach out to Itanagar or Imphal,” he added.
Tamhane, who joined the club in April this year, brings with him the experience of working with Bengaluru FC during their formative years. He said that it is important for NEUFC to reach the grassroots to scout and nurture talent.
“NorthEast United represents the 8 states. This is a huge talent pool. We plan to setup 15 day-boarding academies in the next 5 years in all the 8 states of Northeast region. These will be in the age group of under-7, under-9 and under-11. And after that, under-13, under-15 and under-17, along with the reserve team, will be incorporated in the residential academy that we plan to establish in Shillong. We are in discussion with the Meghalaya government regarding this,” Tamhane said.
He added that there’s already a plan in place for Manipur and once the situation improves, a resident coach will be there to help the players. “We have plans in Meghalaya, plans in Sikkim. I think before the end of this season, which is May 31, 2024, we should be in a position to start at least 3-4 centres in Assam and neighbouring states to start-off with and then we will take it from there,” the CEO said.
“Retaining best talent is a problem for everyone in world football. Financially bigger clubs always vie for such talent – it’s a part and parcel of the sport. But we have to be practical about it, we have to be professional about it. At the end of the day, we cannot be selfish about the club as well. Its about supporting the players and also to see that if a good player leaves, we do have the backup. I think it is a process,” Tamhane said.
He added that the club has rolled out 2-3-year deals to the players thereby ensuring some ‘continuity’ which was lacking earlier when a player used to sign for just a season. “We are trying to build that continuity. As you can see that now we are signing players for 2-3 or 4-year contracts. It is a process which will work out with time,” he added.
On being quizzed about the dwindling support for the club at the stadium, Tamhane said that the club needs to win back the trust of the fans. “I remember when I was with Bengaluru FC, there were more fans of Northeast at the stadium. So, the fans are always there in every part of the country. We just need to bring them back to the stadium – through our performances,” he said.
Friendlies with local clubs on the horizon
Highlighting on the importance of playing continuous football, NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali said that while it will be a ‘start-stop’ kind of league (ISL) in the beginning this season because of the international windows, the club will try to play a few friendlies with other local clubs.
“We will have a 20-day break in October and similar break in November as well. Of course, the players will get offs, but we will also try to play as many friendlies as possible. We cannot predict injuries etc, so we need everybody to be prepared. We have 23 players, and all 23 will be ready to fight on their day,” coach Benali said while replying to a query from The News Mill. The coach added that such friendlies will help the scouts see players (playing for other clubs) from the region – which will be good in the grander scheme of things.