NorthEast United FC possibly commands the biggest fanbase among all the eight franchisees in the Indian Super League, as eight states from the North Eastern part of India come together to support the football team as a whole.
The ISL franchisee, co-owned by Bollywood actor John Abraham, has attracted crowds from every part of the North-East states in the first edition of the football tournament, and the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati is always choc-a-block during matchdays.
If that was not all, the amount of frenzy in the social media was also an indication of their growing fanbase.
NorthEast United FC started their ISL campaign with a win against Kerala Blasters in season 1, but they lost their second against eventual champions Atletico de Kolkata. Ricki Herbert's side recorded just three wins, five losses, and as many as six draws, from their 14 games last season.
Road to ISL season 2
The Highlanders made a complete overhaul of sorts to their squad ahead of the second edition of the ISL. Former Venezuela manager Cesar Farias replaced Herbert as the new head coach of the side, while former Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid winger Simao Sabrosa was appointed as the marquee player of the side this summer.
Also, the presence of forwards like Nicolas Velez (Argentina) and Diomansy Kamara (Senegal) has bolstered the attacking line this year. Royal Wahingdoh forward Seityasen Singh has also been bought to strengthen things further. The 23-year-old Indian was snapped up in the ISL player auctions for Rs 56 lakhs.
The presence of the fast-footed Sanju Pradhan – who played for Atletico de Kolkata last season – is also expected to step things up in the attacking department for NorthEast United FC. Assam youngster Alen Deory is much admired for his talent.
The ISL side embarked on a preseason tour of Durban, South Africa, and enjoyed a pretty decent outing, as they recorded two wins from three games.
Here are the results:
NorthEast United FC 0-3 Maritzburg United FC
NorthEast United FC 3-1 AmaZulu FC
NorthEast United FC 4-0 Ethekwini Select XI
Simao Sabrosa : The former Portugal international is expected to bring in oodles of experience to the NorthEast United side, and he has already shown what he is capable of. The former Benfica star scored twice in the three preseason friendlies this summer for the ISL side. Simao, who has played alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Luis Figo, has a total of 22 goals from 85 games in his international career, and he also was one of the key men during Euro 2004, where Portugal finished as the runners-up.
Nicolas Velez : The 25-year-old Argentina forward may not be a big name, but his exploits have made heads turn. The former Warriors FC targetman has scored thrice in the preseason campaign for NorthEast United, and he is slowly turning out to be the dangerman who defenders have to be wary of in the ISL.
Boithang Haokip : The 24-year-old midfielder is regarded as one of the best deadball specialists in India, but the player is yet to earn a national team cap. However, those who have been following the player in the I-League will know the player's abilities, with precision crosses and lethal passes his strength. And although he did not get much of an opportunity to make his mark in the ISL last year, Boithang can turn out to be the match-winner on his day.
NorthEast United FC: Full squad
Goalkeepers: Gennaro Bracigliano, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Rehenesh TP
Defenders: Cédric Hengbart, Miguel Garcia, Marlangki Suting, Aiborlang Khongjee, Yumnam Raju, Zohmingliana Ralte, Reagan Singh, Robin Gurung.
Midfielders: Simão Sabrosa (Marquee), Silas, Kondwani Mtonga, Bruno Herrero Arias, Sanju Pradhan, Boithang Haokip, Seityasen Singh, Siam Hangal, Alan Deory.
Forwards: Diomansy Kamara, Boubacar Sanogo, Nicolas Velez, Holicharan Narzary, Francis Dadzie.
Head Coach: Cesar Farias.
NorthEast United FC take on last year's finalists Kerala Blasters in Kochi on 6 October in their first game of the ISL. Their first home game is on 15 October against FC Goa.
Thoughts of marquee player Simao Sabrosa