Ricki Herbert backs forwards to find finishing touch

Ricki Herbert

NorthEast United FC head coach Ricki Herbert has made a name for himself by developing teams which punch above their weight. His work with the New Zealand national team, leading them to an unbeaten record in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, earned him international recognition, and he is achieving a similar feat in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) with his young NorthEast side.

‘The Highlanders’ were expected to struggle in their opening campaign, but Herbert’s management has ensured that NorthEast are one of the most competitive teams in the ISL. Ahead of their next game, against second-placed Chennaiyin FC in Chennai, the New Zealander expressed confidence in his team’s chances of victory despite it promising to be a tough away fixture.

“The team enjoys being on the road. It is a good learning curve, and we are always looking forward to the away fixtures,” Herbert said.

On whether the lack of goals was a concern for him and the team – they have scored four goals in six games – Herbert remarked, “It is an issue. The strikers are short of confidence but it is important that we turn the corner.” He did, however, point out that his team’s build-up play was full of quality, asserting, “We are the best passing team in the league.”

The other side of the pitch, however, is a source of comfort for Herbert. “On the flip side, only four goals conceded. We have been tight at the back.”

And the head coach went on to highlight the defensive solidity his team have shown. “The best teams in the world don’t concede many goals,” Herbert pointed out, before heaping praise on captain Miguel Garcia and marquee player Joan Capdevila. “Miguel is arguably the best defender in the league and along with Capedevilla they have formed a good partnership at the back.”

Herbert also singled out young goalkeeper Rehenesh TP for his performances since being promoted to the starting XI. “Don’t forget about a 21-year-old goalkeeper who no one knew when the league started. Rehnesh has been in fine form. He made a mistake in the first game but came back well to win Man of the Match.”

And the manager backed his keeper and defence to deal with the threat posed by Chennaiyin marquee player Elano, the set piece specialist who is currently also the league’s top scorer. “If we maintain discipline, I am sure Rehenesh will be able to deal with Elano,” asserted Herbert.

Despite the packed ISL fixture schedule, fatigue seems to be a non-issue as far as Rickie Herbert is concerned. “I don’t see fatigue as forthcoming. The condition of the players is very good and I think we can use it to our advantage.”

Forward Seiminlen Doungel joined his manager for the press conference, and the 23-year-old brushed off any suggestions of added pressure given the youthfulness of the NorthEast squad. “There is no pressure. We are here to enjoy the game,” the young attacker said. He added that the ISL was providing him and his teammates with an excellent chance to learn from experienced international players. “We must utilise every opportunity to improve our game and pick up finer technical nuances from foreign players who are part of the squad.” 

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