The Stallions’ season proved to be a roller coster ride for their fans.
It would be an understatement to say that FC Pune City had a very eventful fifth season in the Indian Super League (ISL). A poor start to the season was followed by a double change in the managerial position and then when the club was on a resurgent streak in the latter phase, the news of the club’s apparent financial snags came to light.
However, this wasn’t actually surprising; the club’s poor set of decisions even before the season started, were always going to lead them to this odd predicament. What comes rather as a surprise is despite the club making a rod for its own back with some decisions, it has finished the season ahead of the likes of Delhi Dynamos, Kerala Blasters and last year’s champions Chennaiyin FC.
Now let’s head over to the time where it all began going wrong for the Stallions.
After finishing at the bottom half of the table for the first three seasons, Pune rose up from the dead under the then new head coach Ranko Popovic. Not to forget, that the Serbian was their fourth head coach in four years.
Miguel Angel Portugal failed to step up in his second stint in the Indian Super League
Ranko’s magic worked flawlessly at Balewadi as he bolstered the squad by bringing in the likes of previous year’s ISL Golden Boot winner Marcelinho, NorthEast United ace Emiliano Alfaro and the Dynamos’ midfield maestro Marcos Tebar for the upcoming season. The 51 year-old’s tactics were immaculate and his signings immediately found the rhythm, going into the fourth season. With that squad supported by top quality football, Ranko led the club to a historical playoffs qualification.
Alas, it was Sunil Chhetri’s brilliance that helped a much experienced Bengaluru FC side down the Stallions in the semi-finals, who subsequently also bowed out of the Super Cup following a defeat to I-League side Shillong Lajong.
However, what was much more disappointing than the losses was that the club couldn’t keep hold of their head coach and for yet another season they were out, looking for a perfect candidate to carry on the legacy that Ranko left behind.
Then, in a few weeks time, the club appointed a certain Marcos Paqueta as the head coach. But to add to the misery, the Brazilian didn’t last in his position for even a month as he left the club without coaching a single game. By that time, it had become a routine task for the club to go in search for a new head coach.
And what could be termed as one of the most inappropriate decisions ever taken by the board, former Dynamos head coach Miguel Angel Portugal took charge of the club. Under the Spaniard, the Delhi-based club had finished 8th in the league in the previous season and was never the right option for Pune, especially if their target was to reflect their performance under Popovic.
Alfaro failed to replicate his last season’s form and was injured for the most part of the season
But now that Portugal was here, fate was inevitable for the Stallions. Moreover his very first words as the head coach made it clear that the club was in for a big nightmare. “Last season in Delhi, we had the worst budget. Now in Pune, we have better budget.”
“It is an important factor, as having a good budget means you can have the best players. In Pune, we don’t have the best budget but neither the worst. Having a good budget means we can fight for the first position,” quoted the 63 year-old.
If that wasn’t enough, in following weeks, the club let go the likes of players such as Jonatan Lucca, Marcos Tebar and Kean Lewis. Meanwhile, there were already few signs of Alfaro’s injury woes and the club was expected to sign a good forward. However, they ended up signing veteran striker Robin Singh.
No doubting the abilities of Robin as a player, but the 28 year-old was never going to fit in well for Portugal for obvious reasons. That said, the club also roped in players like Shankar Sampingiraj, Alwyn George and retained a young Rohit Kumar, forming the depth in the midfield.
With that squad, Pune City headed over to the fifth season of the ISL. Within the three opening games, the team lost twice, against Bengaluru and Mumbai City in the Maha Derby while drawing against Delhi. They had it coming.
What followed was just a series of events that was bound to happen as Portugal was sacked by the club and technical director Pradyum Reddy took over as interim coach. The trend of losses continued under Reddy initially, but as the international break approached, the Stallions picked up three wins in five games.
Until then, the club was again at its routine task of searching a new head coach. And finally during the international break, the board announced that former Hull City AFC manager Phil Brown is to take charge of the club.
The 59 year-old brought back the glory days to Balewadi as during the six games under his charge, the Stallions won thrice, drew twice and lost just once. However, the team was forced to suffer from the damage that had already been done earlier in the season.
So to sum up the season as a whole, it was a battle long lost by the Stallions, in fact, even before it started.