Eight States, One United: This is the motto of Northeast United FC
, a football
team with players of 12 different countries, representing 8 Indian states (Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Mizoram)
Their home stadium in Guwahati, the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, has an increased capacity of 35000, in line with the region’s most popular sport, and a sincere attempt to encourage aspiring players from these remote regions. Actor John Abraham and I-League club Shillong Lajong have joint ownership of the club.
With the ongoing season already in progress, the club has impressed in its first 5 games, with only 1 loss (to favorites Atletico De Kolkata), 2 wins and a goalless draw (against Delhi). 4 goals in 5 games may not be much, but they have been solid at the back, conceding just 3 goals, and look good to finish in the top half of the table. It’s still early days, but with most players still finding their groove, they can only get better—especially after an impressive opening-game win against Kerala Blasters.
A primary reason for their performance has been a balanced, if not star-studded team, along with crowd support that can rival Kolkata’s. The roar heard when they scored their first goal was memorable, and it was a sight to see their supporters pack in to Delhi’s stadium and outnumber the home fans during the goalless draw.
It starts with their illustrious coach Ricki Herbert, a New Zealand footballing legend—famous for his decade-long playing career with the national team, before managing the team to their first-ever FIFA World Cup in 2010. Their greatest moment came under him, when they drew all their 3 games in the group, finishing the World Cup undefeated (although without a win), including a draw with reigning World Champs Italy. Their failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup saw Herbert resign from his job. However, for NorthEast United, he has carried on his style from managing the Wellington Phoenix, focusing on counter-attacks and set-pieces.
Leftback and marquee player Joan Capdevila, the Spanish veteran with a World Cup and Euro titles to his name, has been played as Central defender, thus contributing to his team’s solid defensive start to the league (3 clean sheets).
Journeyman Spanish striker Koke, who scored their first goal against the Blasters, has been incisive in attack and is their highest scorer so far, but hasn’t received enough support up front to consistently challenge the opposition.
Rightback and captain Miguel Garcia, the Portuguese rightback, hasn’t supported Capdevila ably, while Englishman James Keene and experienced Greek national keeper Tzorvas have kept things clean. Tzorvas was Man of the match in their first game, and has only conceded 3 goals after that (2 to Kolkata).
Durga Boro, an on-loan striker for Shillong Lajong, along with East Bengal favorite 20-year old Doungel, have been unable to give Koke enough support, without any goals to their names so far.
The other top players that form the core of this side are Zambian legend Isaac Chansa—also an African Nations Cup Winner in 2012—and Shillong midfielder Alen Deory, who is the youngest player in the team (18), represented India at U13 and U14 levels already, and once spent 9 months at the U14 IMG Soccer Academy in Florida with Newcastle legend Alan Shearer.
As of now, they are only a win away from league leaders Kolkata, but coach Herbert already has a set of goals and aspirations for his Underdog team—who are already suffering from injuries to their top players. Against Delhi, none of Capdevila, Chalsa, Deory or Koke took the field—but they still came away with a draw.
The way they’re going, they won’t remain underdogs for too long.