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Robert Jarni at NorthEast United – an era that ended before it started

In his final press conference as NorthEast United head coach, Robert Jarni mentioned that he was happy with a point against Jamshedpur FC. He praised the performance of his team but throughout the season, there was not enough fire at the club and that has ultimately led to the manager’s departure. 

The discontent amongst the supporters was so much so that the supporters club Highlanders Brigade had decided to boycott a home game last week, a decision that they later reversed after holding a meeting with the club management. 

One point that was raised in that crucial meeting was the lack of continuity in the squad. NorthEast United had developed an infamous habit of securing their signings very late in the off-season but a surprise in store this time was when they roped in a marquee player in Asamoah Gyan. 

Gyan’s signing was up there amongst the top moves of the summer alongside the arrival or Roy Krishna from A-League. But the move backfired once the season started, with the striker struggling with minor niggles initially before fitness issues forced the Ghanaian to leave the club. He left India with just four goals and an assist to his name.

Jarni’s team did not fail at the back, they failed to create an impact going forward while the midfield lacked bite and purpose. Quite incredibly, the ninth-placed NorthEast has the third-best defence in the league, having let in only 21 goals from 15 matches. However, the reason for their poor show is because they failed massively in the final third of the pitch. The Highlanders have the worst attack in the league, one that has scored only 12 goals, which is less than a goal per game. 

Gyan’s replacement Andrew Keogh is yet to settle into the team. Redeem Tlang and Puitea has shown flashes of their brilliance but haven’t stepped up this season. And to make matters worse, there were too many disruptions in the squad, with Panagiotis Triadis and Maximiliano Barreiro leaving the club mid-season. Triadis’ contract had run out at the end of December, with Federico Gallego replacing him, while Barreiro was let go after an alleged conflict between the player and the club management. Those ins and outs had to be planned in a better manner. In short, Jarni ended up without solutions to the biggest problem he was facing. 

They signed Simon Lundevall along with Keogh but the Swede also did not have much time to gel with the team and create an impact. Till Gyan was present, the team had a focal point in attack and the team was completely dependent on him. In fact, in the eight matches he played, NorthEast lost just one game. Their season derailed after Gyan’s exit. However, a lack of urgency in getting a replacement did hurt the team.

Yet, Robert Jarni will have to take up much of the blame for the disappointment this season, mainly because of how unimpressive his team looked when they were put under pressure. They have taken the least number of shots so far and have the least number of touches. 

After entering the playoffs for the first time last season and then sacking the manager that helped them achieve that historic feat, the club has once again completed a full circle and is back to where they started. They start from zero again. 

NorthEast are at a stage where they badly need some consistency. Not a single manager has had two seasons in a row at the club and that lack of continuity is hurting the team and their consistency. Some of the blame also goes to the management for the way in which they have handled these affairs.

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