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ISL 2018-19: NorthEast United's Eelco Schattorie has answered his critics

04:37 GMT 04/03/2019
The Dutchman has ensured that the Highlanders are termed 'perennial underachievers' no more...

Expectations were low from NorthEast United after four seasons of disappointment in the Indian Super League (ISL). However, Eelco Schattorie created history when he led the Highlanders to their first ever ISL semi-finals, overcoming all sorts of hurdles.

Even though the Dutchman joined the club midway through the previous season, he took over the team only six weeks before the season began.

But, there was no continuity as such with only seven Indian players being retained from a treacherous 2017-18 season where the club registered only 11 points from 18 games, finishing at the bottom of the pack.

Schattorie has never remained shy of voicing his unhappiness with the team's preparations leading onto the season. The delay in rubber-stamping his appointment in the first place itself after Avram Grant took on an advisory role was a tedious process where the "club had to pulls some strings", as Schattorie himself mentions.

By his own admission, the most of the recruitment was done long before he was handed the reigns.

Budget was tight as they could not splurge much like the other teams in the league like ATK and Bengaluru FC. Even their planned pre-season trip to Sweden was called off.

Bartholomew Ogbeche, who has played with the likes of Ronaldinho at Paris Saint-Germain as a teenager, turned out to be a prolific signing. The Nigerian had scored ten goals in the previous season with Willem II in Schattorie's native Holland. His 12 goals is a new club record, surpassing the previous best by Nicolas Velez who scored 8 in 25 appearances over two seasons.

Schattorie's ingenious man-management has been on the forefront throughout this season. Maintaining a steady nucleus throughout the campaign with little tweaks and nudges quickly saw NorthEast garner five wins from the first eight games. In this period, four of their wins came away from home - a compelling statement halfway through the season.

Bringing the best out of his domestic players has also helped his cause. Pawan Kumar displaced Rehenesh TP, the only player who has been part of the club since the first season, as the numero uno between the sticks.

Rowllin Borges, regarded as one of the best passers of the ball in the Indian footballing circuit, started contributing with goals from midfield. But, the revelation of this season has been Lalthathanga Khawlhring, fondly known as Puitea.

The Mizoram-born has been on the books since the last season but was sent out on-loan at Aizawl FC in the I-League in 2017-18. Puitea has filled in all sorts of roles this season - central midfield, left wing, right wing and even left back with grit and determination.

A combination of players who possess quality and self-belief ticked all the right boxes as Schattorie applied all his knowledge from previous Indian stints with United SC and East Bengal to turn the NorthEast side from a Mini Cooper to a Ferrari.

In fact, credit to the Dutch coach for reaching the play-offs with the best defensive record with a defence that had the feel of a make-shift one right from day one.

Schattorie now leads his side into the knockouts against Bengaluru FC, the first of which will be at home on Thursday. He already has shut his detractors, overcoming the challenges that fell his way ensuring that the Highlanders are no longer the 'perennial underachievers' in ISL.