New Delhi: Football remains a team game and individual contributions sometimes don’t really matter. When it comes to goals, one striker basks in the glory but those contributions alone are never enough to power the team. Last season, FC Goa made it to play-offs thanks largely to goals from Ferran Corominas, but the contribution of Manuel Lanzarote and his scintillating partnership could not be ignored.
This season, NorthEast United FC made it to the semi-finals of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) for the first time. And even though it’s striker Bartholomew Ogbeche who grabbed the limelight, he could have been pegged back, if Federico Gallego was not by his side.
“I’m happy as long as he (Bartholomew) scores. If you compare our team with others, we depend on only Bartholomew and Federico and I give myself a lot of credit for that,” Eelco Schattorie said earlier this season. Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego have been exceptional throughout the season and more of the same will be expected from them going into the big games.
Former PSG and Real Valladolid striker Ogbeche joined NorthEast United this season and slotted seamlessly into the attack. He led the line brilliantly and has 12 goals in 17 matches, only Ferran Corominas (15) has more. He has taken the most number of shots this season (4.24/game) and has 1.53 shots on target per game, only second to Corominas. It’s an impressive return for a player’s debut season in India.
Opposition teams would often find Ogbeche as the danger man in the NorthEast team and they have almost always been right. He can hold the ball up, run in behind, be a poacher and also shoot from a distance and it all comes naturally for the Nigerian. After playing for different teams with different styles and in various conditions, Indian football has been a cakewalk for the forward.
The individual brilliance of Ogbeche was not enough to cover for the lack of squad depth at NorthEast United. The club needed a partnership up front and within the first few matches, the potential of Gallego was there for all to see. He tormented rival defences with his intelligent passes and movement and suddenly, opponents found it hard to just focus on Ogbeche as a means of shutting NorthEast United down.
Gallego has scored four goals and has five assists so far. The duo has contributed a total of 22 goals and assists in NorthEasts’ march into play-offs. Of the 22 goals NorthEast has scored this season, the attacking partnership has been responsible for 16. Schattorie’s men will take on Bengaluru FC at their home ground for the first leg of their play-offs on March 7. The season has been a rollercoaster ride for NorthEast United but against the most consistent team in ISL in the last two seasons, the head coach will once again be banking on the Gallego-Ogbeche partnership to continue making an impact.