NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali had a mixed season with the Highlanders Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season. Under Benali, they finished seventh in the league securing six wins in the process while coming close to reaching the playoffs.

Since joining the Highlanders, Benali brought about a significant change after a disappointing 2023-24 season where NorthEast United FC finished at the bottom of the table, securing only one win last season.

With over two decades of coaching experience across Asia, Europe, and Africa, the 55-year-old reflected on his inaugural season managing the Highlanders and expressed confidence in his team's readiness for the next ISL season.

“Well in the beginning it was tough. Different mentality, different food, different country, different everything. But thanks to god that we are totally integrated, we’re home. Beautiful experiences, beautiful adventure. Thanks to the players and thanks to the people in the club and support from the owners and the management made sure that every single day was important,” he said in an interview with NorthEast United FC.

Benali faced a tough challenge initially, taking over a revamped squad. NorthEast United FC brought in experienced foreign players like Michel Zabaco, Mohammed Ali Bemmammer, and Nestor Albiach, who became indispensable assets in the starting eleven. Players like Jithin MS, Parthib Gogoi, and Asheer Akhtar also impressed, contributing significantly to their playoff aspirations. Benali highlighted how the unity among players positively impacted the club, stressing that each player has a vital role to play in the upcoming season.

“We cannot say that we have only Indian players. In India, each player comes from a different region, different area, and different mentality. We have players from Shillong, Manipur, Punjab, Delhi, Kerala, Kolkata and here (Guhawati).. It's a totally different mentality.

Then we have foreign players from Spain, Morocco, Brazil, France and Palestine, it was not easy but the players got together and helped us a lot and that was the reason we stayed here. throughout the season and that was the reason we stayed here. Im sure if in the beginning of the season, if they told everyone that in the last few games, we'll be playing for the playoffs and doing what they are doing..playing the way we do and with the spirit we have, You know in the end we say I can do better and we know we can do much better,” the Spaniard explained. 

Having narrowly missed the playoffs this season, NorthEast United FC's minimum goal for next season is to return to the playoffs, last achieved in the 2020-21 season. Despite finishing seventh, just one point behind sixth-placed Chennaiyin FC, NorthEast United FC established themselves as a formidable team in the league. They scored the most goals among teams finishing sixth or below and secured victories against playoff-bound teams such as FC Goa, Odisha FC, and Kerala Blasters FC. Benali acknowledged that the 2023-24 season was a learning experience and highlighted a renewed focus on winning in the upcoming campaign.

“We can see the transition this year, the year for me to learn about Indian football to know everything about the Indian football such as how they think, how they play, what is their weakness and what their strength is. For players it was not easy to learn what we want from them. The way we want to play, the way we want to win and survive and now it starts the era of winning. This is the start of an era where we have to be really hungry and put our stamp in the league. We will make a beautiful year..This season was the season to prepare the team, to prepare the players, to know the players, they know us and the next season is about win, win and win from now,” he asserted.