As North Eastern giants Shillong Lajong FC prepare for the new I-League season, another club from the same city are busy with their own preparations ahead of their I-League debut. Over the past few years, the city’s most popular club has had its moments in the I-League, but the promotion of Rangdajied United into the I-League will surely change football demographics of Shillong this season. Earlier this year, before the commencement of I-League 2, Shillong-based Royal Wahingdoh FC were the most favored side from the city to make the I-League cut. However, contrary to the initial expectations, Royal Wahingdoh crashed out in the first round, while Rangdajied, after qualifying for the final rounds, made an extraordinary late surge to win the second division title.
With the Blues making their I-League debut this season, Rangdajied will start as one of the early candidates for relegation. The club has hired the services of former Mohun Bagan and ONGC man Santosh Kashyap to handle the club’s reins this season, while new players have been brought in to strengthen the squad ahead of the new season. While players like Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Edmar Figueira and Lamine Tamba have previous I-League experience, there are a few who have been at the club for quite a while now, and will have to adjust to playing at a much higher level.
Goalkeepers: Shambhu Mistry, Surjay Pariyar and Amit Saha
Surjay Pariyar has been at the club for over a couple of seasons now, and was a crucial member of the I-League 2-winning side last season. The Sikkim-born goalkeeper should have an important role this season too, and will most likely be Santosh Kashyap’s first choice at the beginning of the season. On the other hand, Shambhu Mistry, a product of the 2004 batch of the Tata Football Academy, has the experience of playing in the I-League with Air India, and will stake his claim for a starting place too. The presence of Amit Saha in the squad will provide healthy competition for first-team goalkeeping places at the club.
Defenders: Prateek Chowdhury, Lamine Tamba, Munmun Timothy Lugun, Ambilstar Sun, Bhola Prasad, Dapbor Bareh, Poibiang Pohshna, Thomas Saikhom and Pynshongdor Shadap.
With Rangdajied United being already written off as the weakest side among the 13 I-League clubs, the Blues’ defence will have a big task in its hands this coming season. The club has brought in Prateek Chowdhary from Air India and Lamine Tamba from Churchill, both of whom will most likely be the first-choice center-back pairing of Santosh Kashyap this coming term. Ambilstar Sun and Poibiang Pohshna have been at the club for quite a long time, and will have their fair share of first-team chances as the season progresses. Moreover, the presence of Munmun Lugun and Bhola Prasad will definitely add serious depth to the club’s defence line-up. In the full back positions, Thomas Saikhom and Dapbor Bareh have been regulars on the right and left flanks, respectively. It will be interesting to see how these two adjust to the higher level of play in the I-League. Youngster Pynshongdor Shadap, on the other hand, will most likely be used as a back-up option by the club.
Midfielders: Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Yohei Iwasaki, Restom Khriam, David Lalbiakzara, David KC Ngaite, Thoudam Joychandra, Bansharai Sunn, Abocha Singh, Ericson Lyngdoh and Joy Mrong Kharraswai.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh has been one of the biggest acquisitions by Rangdajied United over the summer. The 27-year old winger, who grew up at this club, had two good years at Shillong Lajong, and has come back to captain the club in its debut I-League season. The Blues have also signed Japanese winger Yohei Iwasaki to add some trickery to its flanks, and the former-Independiente wingman will be one of the star attractions in the Rangdajied side this season.
Midfielders Restom Khriam, Bansharai Sunn and Abocha Singh are some of the survivors from the side’s second division triumph. These players will be crucial to the club’s survival chances, and will face competition for first team places from new signings David Lalbiakzara, David KC Ngaite and Thoudam Joychandra over the course of the season. Shillong Lajong youth product Joy Mrong Kharraswai is one of the brightest prospects at the club, and will hope to feature prominently in Kashyap’s team. The other medio in the team, youngster Ericson Lyngdoh, can be used sparingly, if needed.
Forwards: Edmar Figueira, Sandesh Gadkari, Ho Jun Shin, Laldingngheta, T Lalnunpuia and Stephanfield Lanong.
Former Pune FC striker Edmar Figueira was recently brought in by Rangdajied to add an experienced goal poacher to its ranks. The onus will be on Edmar to replace the departing Babatunde, whose goals fired Rangdajied to the I-League, earlier this year. Sandesh Gadkari is another of the club’s signings during the summer, and the former Air India striker will be looking to make his mark in the top flight with some goals for the Blues. Korean striker Ho Jun Shin too can come in handy for Kashyap’s side, if retained. Laldingngheta, Lalnunpuia and Stephanfield Lanong, all young forwards, can have a crucial say in the season, as the Blues will need quality strikers to back up the likes of Edmar in the long run. Rangdajied’s season will depend on how its strikers fare in the top division this term, and lack of goals from its main men, like Shillong Lajong in 2009-10, can lead to relegation.
Having previously coached Air India, Mohun Bagan and ONGC, Santosh Kahyap definitely knows a thing or two about coaching at the top level. The 47-year old led ONGC to a 9th place finish in the I-League last season, and will hope to achieve a similar result with his new club. Kashyap will be assisted by Khlain Syiemlieh, who has worked with the Blues in past. It will be interesting to see how Kashyap lines up his team in the league this term, with the different breeds of players in the squad. Santosh Kashyap’s tactical knowhow and man-management skills will certainly be important in the blues’ quest for survival this term. More importantly, Kashyap already has the experience of maximizing his resources with weak teams in past and turning them into cohesive units to stave off relegation.
Rangdajied United will start the season as the favorites to go down, along with Mumbai FC. The Shillong-based club, despite its signings over the summer, has one of the weakest squads in the I-League, on paper. Santosh Kashyap’s top most priority this season will be to finish above the relegation zone. It would, however, be quite surprising indeed if the Blues manage to avoid the axe, come next May.
In Federation Cup, meanwhile, Rangdajied have been clubbed alongside Sporting Clube de Goa, East Bengal and Bengaluru FC, and it would take a miracle from the blues to progress into the semis from this group.