I-League Crystal Ball Series: Pune FC

Moving on in Goal.com's I-League Crystal Ball series, we take a look at the baby of all Indian football clubs, Pune FC...
Pune FC are another of the four new entrants in the I-League this time around, and the youngest side in the league. Formed in as recently as 2007, it’s been an impressive beginning to what could be an illustrious history for the Pune club. They qualified for the I-League on the back of some steady performances in the 2nd division last year, which were more about holding fort in defence, than outscoring the opposition.

Close Season


Stewart Hall was the architect of Pune FC’s rise to the top flight in India, but parted company with the club soon after last season came to a close. The club hierarchy, although happy with the club’s I-League qualification, was of the view that they underperformed in other cup competitions, leading to the Englishman’s mutual exit from the club.

Signings have been coming thick and fast, with the most important one being that of former Mahindra United coach Derrick Pereira, who will now guide the Pune side this season. Pereira, when speaking to Goal.com, maintained that his primary aim was to “play top-quality football in the league”, something we wouldn’t mind at all.

Squad Changes

Perhaps part of Pereira’s “top quality football” plan was to sign Ivorian playmaker Djidjia Douhou, who played under him at Mahindra United. Another crucial signing was that of India’s No.1 goalkeeper and Nehru Cup hero Subrata Paul. The goalkeeper is more often than not the most important member of a newly-promoted club, so Pune FC should consider themselves well-covered in that department. Captain S Venkatesh will be their key man again this season, with his experience coming in handy for all the young lads playing for the first time in India’s top flight.

More signings include the likes of Arata Izumi from Mahindra United, and Sampath Kuttymani from Mumbai FC, both quality players, who should bolster the Pune first team. Also, Pereira confirmed that he’s also snapped up midfielders Anees Kutty and Godwin Franco, which gives the squad a more wholesome look. The team’s Nigerian defender, Chika Wali, also had his contract extended at the end of the season, which fits in perfectly with Pereira’s plan to make Pune’s defence their strong point.

Expectations

The IFA Shield was a mixed bag for the Maharastrian side, as they lost to Air India before beating Senegalese club AS Douanes 2-0. Pune continued their unique and efficient way of going about things on the pitch, not particularly resorting to extravagance. It’s no secret that they will continue playing the same way in the league, which might just frustrate and catch a few big teams out.

Pune, interestingly, is also at an altitude, so visiting teams, probably barring Lajong, might have a few issues adjusting to the conditions during their trips to the Balewadi Sports Complex, making it a big advantage for the I-League newcomers. It will also be interesting to see how the Pune citizens respond to their local club making it to the I-League, and how many would make it to the Complex to see Pune play every week.

Verdict


Their inexperience in playing at the top-level is likely to be exposed at times during the course of the season, but a strong team ethic put in place by Stewart Hall, and now Derrick Pereira, should ensure that Pune FC make a mark in the league. The squad is well-settled, and a month-long training camp in Goa means that most of the squad is well-tuned with one another.

With a defence that looks solid on paper, the best goalkeeper in India, an experienced and worthy skipper, a bunch of talented foreigners, and a top coach, Pune FC seem to have enough about them to stay in the I-League. Also, with their club run very professionally, and as they possess better facilities than many other clubs, it is unlikely that the youngest club in the I-League will be anything but top flight regulars in the years to come.

Atishay Agarwal