Of all the Hero Indian Super League teams in existence since 2014 when the league first kicked off, Guwahati-based NorthEast United FC are the only team not to have qualified for the play-offs ever.
The club that boasts a passionate fan-following is yet to taste success at least by finishing in the top-four. Will the fifth season of the ISL be the turning point for the Highlanders?
NorthEast United FC, which claims its roots to the Northeast part of India, came close to qualifying on two occasions.
In a closely fought ISL 2014, under the tutelage of New Zealander Ricki Herbert, NorthEast United finished bottom of the league table and yet only three points separated them from the fifth-placed Delhi Dynamos.
The team missed the final play-off spot by a whisker in the following two seasons.
In 2015, under Venezuelan coach César Alejandro Farías, NEUFC managed to climb up to the fourth spot on the league table with one round of fixtures to go. A 3-2 win over FC Pune City had boosted the club’s hopes of a top-four finish but Chennaiyin FC won their last fixture and edged past Farias’ men. It was a mere two-point lead but one that broke the Highlanders’ hearts.
Lightning struck a third time for NorthEast United a year later as they fell short by two points once again. Despite playing well for most of the season and leading at the start of the season, Nelo Vingada’s team suffered the play-off jinx yet again.
The club had a forgettable campaign last season as they finished bottom of the table. But they will embrace a positive outlook going into the new season.
The team has recruited some good foreign players including former PSG striker Batholomew Ogbeche. Moreover, the average age of the team is much lesser compared to previous seasons. They will be under head coach Eelco Schattorie and assistant coach Arthur Papas who are an experienced duo.
More importantly, Schattorie is not new to the team, having assisted Avram Grant last season with the Highlanders as well.
“If you have never qualified, you are asked to do so. Yah, there is huge pressure on me. I believe lower budget and low-quality players don’t matter in football. Everything is possible,” said Eelco Schattorie.
“Taj Mahal was not built in a day and if you want to build something it takes time.”
The team is undergoing pre-season preparations in India this time as well. They will be hoping that the foreign players will adjust to the conditions in the subcontinent quickly and power their campaign this time around.
The unpredictability and the competitive nature of the league are for all to see. It remains to be seen if NorthEast United’s jinx could be broken as the fifth season of the footballing bonanza beckons.
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