NorthEast United FC eye to script history in Khalid Jamil era

NorthEast United FC were well on the course to crash out of the title-race midway through last season of Hero Indian Super League (ISL), when the axe fell on Spanish coach Gerard Nus. Already in the scheme of things from the sidelines, experienced Indian tactician Khalid Jamil was handed over the reins for the rest of the season. Little did everyone know what was in store for the Highlanders.

Jamil not only bailed them out of the dire situation, but steered them to an 11-match unbeaten streak and helped them qualify for the semi-finals for only the second time in their history. The team finished at the third spot in the league stage, with 33 points in their kitty, which included eight wins, nine draws and three losses.

It was only in the second leg of the play-offs, against a star-studded ATK Mohun Bagan side that NorthEast United FC lost 1-2 and were eliminated with an aggregate score of 2-3. For all the faith ISL teams have been showing in foreign coaches, Khalid Jamil defied the odds and gave hope to Indian managers.

To honour the miraculous comeback last season, the management deviated from the norm and appointed the former Aizawl FC man for the top-job ahead of the 2021-22 Hero ISL, with him becoming the first ever Indian head coach in the history of the league.

As far as the signings are concerned, they have lost players like Lalengmawia Ralte, Ashutosh Mehta, Dylan Fox and Benjamin Lambot. But, suitable reinforcements have also been sanctioned in the likes of Australian defender Patrick Flottmann, Spanish midfielder Hernan Santana, Indian stars Sehnaj Singh and Laldanmawia Ralte. However, their core group members from last season - Deshorn Brown, Fredrico Gallego, VP Suhair and Khassa Camara, are all retained.

History

In spite of playing some exciting football, NorthEast United FC had remained one of the underachievers in the Hero ISL for the initial years.It was only in the 2018-19 season, under the supervision of Dutch gaffer Eelco Schattorie that they entered the semi-finals for the first time ever. However, the achievement did not materialize into a title win, as they were ousted by a well-drilled Bengaluru FC side in the semis.

With Eelco departing for greener pastures, the Highlanders appointed Croatian Robert Jarni the following season. The investments hardly earned dividends as they finished ninth in the 2019-20 Hero ISL, one of their worst ever finishes. With Gerard Nus’ tenure also short lived, Khalid Jamil inspired the side to their second ever semi-final appearance last season.

Players to watch out for

Deshorn Brown

Having scored just three goals in seven matches for Bengaluru FC in the 2019-20 Hero ISL, Deshorn Brown never looked settled in the setup. Eventually, the Jamaican made the switch to NorthEast United FC midway through the last season. The move worked wonders for either parties, as the Jamaican scored five goals in nine matches and guided them to a fourth-place finish.

After the exploits last season, NorthEast United FC have extended his stay for yet another year. With the capabilities he’s shown in the latter stages of the league season, there’s no doubt he’s a valuable inclusion to the squad. Having already played in the league before just gives him an edge. NorthEast United FC will be banking on him to keep the scores ticking.

Gurjinder Kumar

The experienced campaigner was roped in last season and the spending was worth it for the Hero ISL outfit, as the full-back provided exceptional service throughout the season. Not only did he perform his defensive duties, but also helped in the attacks with his run down the side-lines, in a season which saw him making 18 appearances.

In the entire 2020-21 season, he made 33 clearances, 29 blocks, 36 interceptions and 34 tackles to support his case. With him now one of the more experienced players in the squad and in the defence, Gurjinder’s contribution in the upcoming season will be more than crucial for NorthEast United FC.

Battle to watch for

Bengaluru FC have been NorthEast United FC’s nemesis ever since the latter lost in the second leg of the semi-final back in the 2018-19 season. The Blues are unbeaten in this fixture for the past eight games, winning four out of four and sharing the spoils on similar occasions.

The Highlanders, who had a better season than their rivals last term, have the perfect opportunity to break the jinx as well as start their new campaign on a high, if they manage to bag three points on November 20, at the Fatorda Stadium.

Fixtures

Date

Fixture

Venue

20/11/2021

Bengaluru FC v/s NorthEast United FC

Athletic Stadium, Bambolim

25/11/2021

NorthEast United FC v/s Kerala Blasters FC

PJN Stadium, Fatorda

29/11/2021

NorthEast United FC v/s Chennaiyin FC

PJN Stadium, Fatorda

04/12/2021

NorthEast United FC v/s FC Goa

PJN Stadium, Fatorda

10/12/2021

Odisha FC v/s NorthEast United FC

Tilak Maidan Stadium

13/12/2021

Hyderabad FC v/s NorthEast United FC

Athletic Stadium, Bambolim

17/12/2021

NorthEast United FC v/s SC East Bengal

PJN Stadium, Fatorda

21/12/2021

NorthEast United FC v/s ATK Mohun Bagan

PJN Stadium, Fatorda

27/01/2022

NorthEast United FC v/s Mumbai City FC

PJN Stadium, Fatorda

06/01/2022

Jamshedpur FC v/s NorthEast United FC

Athletic Stadium, Bambolim

Northeast United FC squad

Goalkeepers: Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Mirshad Michu, Nikhil Deka, Sanjiban Ghosh

Defenders: Patrick Flottman, Tondonba Singh, Provat Lakra, Gurjinder Kumar, Mohammed Irshad, Jestin George, Nabin Rabha, Mashoor Shereef, Nabin Rabha, Joe Zoherliana

Midfielders: Federico Gallego, Imran Khan, Khassa Camara, Emanuel Lalchhanchhuaha, Hernan Santana, Sehnaj Singh, Pragyan Gogoi, Pragyan Medhi, Rochharzela

Forwards: Manvir Singh, VP Suhair, Mathias Coureur, Gani Nigam, Deshorn Brown, Lalkhawpuimawia,William Lalnunfela, Laldanmawia Ralte

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