NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali urged his team to put emphasis on their performances in order to make the fans happy as they begin their Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 campaign against Mumbai City FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic stadium in Guwahati on Sunday. 

The NorthEast United FC supporters are expected to unfurl a big tifo during their opening ISL game and provide complete backing to their team as they begin the new season.

Head coach Juan Pedro Benali who will be taking charge of his first ISL match felt the team needs to honour the fans’ commitment by giving it their all on the pitch. 

“It's said that the fans are the team’s 12th man, but for us, our supporters are Player No. 1,” Benali stated at the pre-match press conference. 

“They push us in a good way and now we need to honour them. Every player that goes out on the field will give their 1000% in honour of these people who care for us and spend money for the love of NorthEast United FC,” he added.

The visit of last season’s ISL League Shield winners will bring a daunting challenge for the Highlanders who have a fairly new team under a new head coach. However, the Spaniard wants his players to focus on their own performance rather than the task at hand. 

“We are (playing) at 70% of our potential right now and we still need time. But the time has come to play and we are here to compete and not to have fun,” he said ahead of the game. 

“The most important thing is to be proud of the performance whatever the result. When the fans leave the stadium, they should feel proud and have their heads high. The fans should see our work and a team being built. That's important for the fans,” he added. 

The 54-year-old though sees the game against Mumbai City FC as a good chance to bring his newly-formed team together and provide them with a benchmark for the rest of the campaign. 

“It's an important game and we aren't looking beyond this fixture. We are playing a big team and if we are able to get a result against them, it will give us a lot of hunger for the upcoming games,” Benali said. 

“We want to make it an interesting game. It won't be easy but it won't be easy for both teams,” he added. 

Defender Gaurav Bora accompanied Benali in the pre-match press conference and spoke about the team’s good recent form. Since the end of the ISL season, NorthEast United FC have reached the semi-finals of the Super Cup and the Durand Cup and there is a new wave of optimism around the place that Bora is desperate to maintain. 

“The mood is good. We have tasted victory in the last few tournaments and we want to taste it again. It will be a difficult first match for us, but we are ready and want to give our 100% and give our fans some joy. They have been waiting a long time for it,” Bora said at the pre-match press conference. 

The 25-year-old defender was handed the armband by the head coach during the Durand Cup, but he feels no extra pressure wearing it. 

“In this team, everyone is a leader. The coach has just chosen to give me the armband. Everyone supports me so I don't feel any pressure. It’s an honour for me,” he concluded.