NorthEast United FC have been adrift from their best standards in recent years. The Guwahati-based club has finished in the bottom half of the table in the last two Hero Indian Super League (ISL) seasons, having reached the semi-final a season before during the Hero ISL 2020-21 campaign under then head coach Khalid Jamil.

However, the club has undergone a change in management after they appointed former Mandar Tamhane as their new CEO, who was previously involved with Bengaluru FC in the same role. Subsequently, the club named Juan Pedro Benali as their new head coach. With the Spaniard being a keen follower of the Hero ISL, a daunting challenge and a fresh project awaits Benali at Guwahati.

Showing his preparedness to take on the mantle at the club, Benali is confident he can be the difference maker in NorthEast United FC’s dawn of a new era.

“After the meeting with owner John Abraham and CEO Mandar Tamhane, I felt that they are the best people I can work with in India. The project is to try to build a solid team that makes the fans trust their team and be proud. We discussed all the points and we have the same idea to make NEUFC one of the important teams in India,” Benali spoke to Khel Now in an interview.

The Highlanders were at the receiving end of a disheartening season in the Hero ISL 2022-23 campaign. The side underwent two managerial changes within the season and finished at the bottom of the table, recording a solitary win, two draws, and 17 losses across 20 games, earning five points in total.

While the side showed minute glimpses of potential in between, it was overshadowed by the lack of consistency that was apparent in their campaign. Benali highlighted the importance of unlearning and talked about taking a different approach as one of his first few steps at the club.

“As I said we need to rebuild the team and try not to make the same mistakes done in the past. When Mandar joined the club, I knew if I take part with him in this project, a new era will start. As I told you before, our plan is to establish a method to bring the team to the best performance possible,” he said.

Soon to be a debutant in the Hero ISL, the 54-year-old is accustomed to the level of football in India, having known the likes of FC Goa winger Noah Sadaoui, Mourtada Fall, and newly-appointed Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera. 

“Of course. Before taking the decision I had many questions but thanks to the explanation of many professionals who knew the Hero ISL better than me. That made me be very positive about this challenge. And also thanks to John Abraham and Mandar Tamhane, they cleared all the doubts I could have,” he concluded.