NorthEast United are one of the less-fancied teams of the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) season despite having former World Cup and European Championship winner Joan Capdevila in their ranks. The left-back, who has more than 330 La Liga appearances to his name while playing for Espanyol, Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna and Villarreal, was signed by the franchise in July as their marquee player. However, apart from Capdevilla, NorthEast United have mainly signed utility players rather than going in for “big names”, thus making them the dark horse of the ISL. NorthEast United are also the only franchise out of the eight which does not have specific city’s name as their own, with their motto being “8 states. 1 united.” NorthEast United have therefore a fan base spread over eight states, and their roster, which is full of local players, means the franchise are sure to receive the backings of their supporters.
Sanjiv Narain, Larsing Ming and Bollywood actor John Abraham are the principal owners of the franchise. However, Narain, who held 33% share of NorthEast United, recently decided to walk out after accusing Abraham of breaching an agreement. It is definitely a set-back for the franchise before the start of the ISL, and NorthEast United fans will be hoping that their team’s off-field antics does not affect their on-field displays.
NorthEast United will play their home games at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, Assam. It is a one tier stadium with a capacity of around 35,000. The stadium is certainly not a big one compared to some of the other arenas of the country, but the vociferous home crowd are sure to more than make up for the numbers by cheering and becoming NorthEast United’s “12th man” during the seven fixtures which will be held at the ground.
Former New Zealand head coach Ricki Herbert, who is in the hot-seat of NorthEast United, will be looking to guide the franchise to a respectable finish in the inaugural ISL season. The 53-year-old was a defender in his playing days and also has the experience of managing New Zealand Knights and Wellington Phoenix. Thangboi Singto of Shillong Lajong will act as Herbert’s deputy, while Lee Taylor is the performance coach of NorthEast United.
Goalkeepers – Alexandros Tzorvas, Kunzang Bhutia, Rehnesh TP
Greece international Alexandros Tzorvas is expected to guard the goal for NorthEast United throughout the course the ISL season. The 32-year-old, who represented his nation at the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship, counts clubs like Panathinaikos, Palermo and Genoa as his former employers. Tzorvas is definitely one of the top-notch goalkeepers of the ISL and will bring a wealth of experience to the NorthEast United side. Young Indian custodians Kunzang Bhutia and Rehnesh TP will also benefit in the long-run under the guidance of Tzorvas, who has 16 caps for Greece to his name.
Defenders – Joan Capdevila, Massamba Sambou, Miguel Garcia, Tomas Josl, Aiborlang Khongjee, Jibon Singh, Pritam Kumar Singh and Robin Gurung Joan Capdevilla,
NorthEast United’s marquee signing, will lead the franchise’s defence in the ISL. The 36-year-old is an experienced customer at both international and club level is expected to guide the fellow foreign recruits as well as the Indian defenders. Monaco’s youth product and Senegal international Massamba Sambou, who has also played for Le Havre and Nantes amongst other clubs, is a versatile player. The 28-year-old central defender can also play as a defensive midfielder and has thus far earned a single cap for the African country. Miguel Garcia and Tomas Josl are the other two foreign defenders of NorthEast United. While Garcia is a right-back and represented Portugal at the Under-21 level, Josl is a Czech left-back, who is expected to be a back-up to Capdevila. The Indian contingent of defenders is also experienced due to their involvement in the I-League. Aiborlang Khongjee, Jibon Singh and Robin Gurung are all Shillong Lajong players, while Pritam Kumar Singh is a youth player of the club. The quartet are expected to provide steel to NorthEast United’s backline, and should blend well with the foreign defenders.
Midfielders – Isaac Chansa, Kondwani Mtonga, Guilherme Castro, Do Dong-hyun, Milan Singh, Zodingliana, Alan Deory, Boithang Haokip and David Ngaihte
The Zambian duo of Isaac Chansa and Kondwani Mtonga are not new to Indian football, having played for Shillong Lajong in the previous campaign. Chansa, who has more than 50 caps for his country and was part of the Zambian squad, which won the 2012 African Cup of Nations will be the pivotal figure in NorthEast United’s midfield in the ISL. South Korean Do Dong-hyun is an attacking midfielder while former Brazilian Under-17 World Cupper Guilherme Castro is more defence-minded, and is likely to be deployed by franchise manager Ricki Herbert in front of North-East United’s back-four. Indian midfielders Milan Singh, Zodingliana, Alan Deory, Boithang Haokip and David Ngaihte are all energetic customers as they hail from hilly regions of the country. They can sprint for the full 90 minutes of a match which can pose serious problems to the rival teams. In addition, they are also be accustomed to playing in the testing conditions of the north-east like their defensive counterparts, which is a serious advantage.
Forwards – Cornell Glen, Luis Yanes, Sergio Pardo, James Keene, Durga Boro, Redeem Tlang and Seiminlen Doungel
NorthEast United have a pretty good attacking line-up, comprising of a fine mix of Indian and foreign talents. Cornell Glen, who like Chansa and Mtonga played the 2013/14 campaign for Shillong Lajong, represented Trinidad and Tobago in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The 32-year-old was the I-League’s top goalscorer with 14 strikes to his name last term and will be looking for a similar successful stint with the Highlanders. James Keene, on the other hand, is a product of Portsmouth’s youth set-up and has the experience of playing in the English Premier League. The 28-year-old, who is Swedish club Elfborg’s top European goalscorer of all times, is expected to strike up a deadly partnership with Glen upfront. Fellow foreign strikers Luis Yanes and Sergio Pardo are also decent buys, while the likes of Durga Boro and Seiminlen Doungel will be more than ready to step up when called upon.
Possible Starting Line-Up
NorthEast United are likely to play in an attacking 4-4-2 formation with two out-and-out forwards upfront. While Tzorvas will stand between the sticks for the franchise, the back-line will comprise of Gurung, Sambou, Khongjee and Capdevila. Haokip, Milan Singh, Chansa and Deory are likely to be the midfielders in this system with Haokip and Deory expected to whip in crosses from the flanks for the strikers Glen and Keene, who are both good headers. The rival defences will also have to keep an eye out for Chansa’s darting runs towards the goal and his through passes for the forwards.
Player to Watch Out For – Boithang Haokip
Haokip, who has been with Shillong Lajong since 2009, is good with both feet and can play in either flank. The 23-year-old has a knack of taking long-rangers and has been dubbed the “David Beckham of the North East” for his ability to take accurate and powerful free-kicks. The nippy and wily winger is a star in the making and could very well use the ISL to take his game into the next level.
Possible Finish – 6th
NorthEast United have an energetic and youthful side at their disposal, but the relative inexperience of the Indian players is a worrying factor for the franchise. The likes of Doungel, Boro and Pritam Kumar Singh are talented individuals no doubt, but it remains to be seen whether they are up for the challenge to compete in the ISL on a regular basis.