New Delhi: A continuous exhibition of good free-flowing football, but without the desired outcome -- that is the story of NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) in the previous two editions of the Indian Super League (ISL). This year, the Highlanders look determined to script a different tale by making it to the play-offs as they gear up for season three of the cash-rich league that begins on October 1.
Known for their riveting brand of football involving slick passing and fast counter-attacks, the Guwahati-based side will again go into the tournament with high expectations. And under new but vastly experienced Portuguese coach Nelo Vingada, the young side with an average age of 26 seems to be in good hands.
Coach of the Portugal Under-20 team which finished third at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Vingada, 63, had earlier helped acclaimed manager Carlos Queiroz to two more U-20 titles.
"(Team owner) John Abraham and I have the same outlook on the game and the team. We want to bring in more talent that will be professional and willing to learn and evolve into better players," Vingada had said when he was roped in.
Coming to the team, Vingada has inherited only five players from his predecessor Cesar Farias, with the rest of the crew being fresh imports.
Ivory Coast's most capped international Didier Zokora, NEUFC's marquee buy, is expected to shore up the midfield, which has always been the side's mainstay, and the coming edition seems to be no different.
"Currently, we are focused on creating a strong midfield for the club and Didier Zokora's presence adds to the already formidable midfield," said the Portuguese.
Besides the former Tottenham Hotspur man, the inclusion of Yusa Katsumi is another hint the side will rely on the middle of the park to win games. A vital cog in Mohun Bagan's wheel in recent years, the fleet-footed Japanese will add zip to the midfield and his partnership with Didier will be crucial.
Seityasen Singh, who created a flutter with his raw pace down the flanks under Santosh Kashyap at Royal Wahingdoh, is another midfield weapon that can turn the tide in favour of NUEFC. The Manipur lad won a national team call-up for his sterling performances in the NEUFC shirt last season and was also signed by Salgaocar for the I-League last season.
In the forward line, NEUFC's weak link in the past, Nicolas Velez will have the responsibility of scoring more goals.
The Argentina striker, who has been retained this season, is already the highest scorer of the team with five goals in 14 matches and going by his social media posts, is primed to do one better this time around.
In-form India striker Sumeet Passi and 18-year old Lallianzuala Chhangte, who grabbed headlines last year in the SAFF Championship tie against Nepal with two superb goals, will be the ones to look out for as well.
Under the bar, the addition of veteran India goalkeeper Subrata Paul has thrown a challenge to T.P. Rehenesh, who made his name with NEUFC in the first season.
In 2015, one saw a much improved performance from NEUFC compared to their inaugural season. They finished fifth and missed the knockout stages by only two points.
What remains to be seen is whether the boys manage to convert all their good work in the midfield into goals, which they singularly failed to do in the past editions. Last term, NEUFC found the back of the net only 18 times despite finishing fifth, while wooden spooners Kerala Blasters pumped in four more than them.
Goalkeepers: T.P. Rehenesh, Subrata Pal, Wellington Gomes (Brazil)
Defenders: Gustavo Lazzaretti (Brazil), Mailson Alves (Brazil), Nirmal Chettri, Reagan Singh, Robin Gurung, Salam Ranjan Singh, Shouvik Ghosh, Wellington Priori (Brazil)
Midfielders: Didier Zokora (Ivory Coast, Marquee Player), Fabio Neves, Fanai Lalrempuia, Holicharan Narzary, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Katsumi Yusa (Japan), Koffi Christian N'dri (Ivory Coast), Rowllin Borges, Seityasen Singh
Forwards: Emiliano Alfaro (Uruguay), Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nicholas Velez (Argentina), Sasha Aneff (Uruguay), Sumit Passi
Head Coach: Nelo Vingada