Are FC Pune City paying the price for their managerial mess?
Written by: Neil Talnikar
The Stallions remain winless after four games this season.
Since the emergence of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014, FC Pune City have shown glimpses of how great the club can become in the coming years. The Pune-based franchise have seen many top European as well as Indian national team players play for them. Some of these high-profile players like David Trezeguet, Didier Zokora, Kalu Uche, Adrian Mutu, Jackichand Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Momo Sissoko, Emiliano Alfaro and Marcelinho have led the club to some of their best victories in the ISL.
However, Pune City have constantly faced a problem with their managers since the start of the league. The Stallions have shuffled as many as six head coaches in five seasons, with the seventh currently incumbent. There has been inconsistency in the head coaches’ tenures at the club, resulting in the misfortunes of the team.
In four seasons, the Stallions have qualified for the playoffs only once, which was last season under Serbian Ranko Popovic. It was the most successful season yet for them as they stood fourth in the table at the end of the league phase.
The Stallions, unfortunately, fell short against much stronger opposition in Bengaluru FC in the semis, as they lost 3-1 on aggregate and were forced to bow out of the league. During that campaign, Pune also enjoyed their biggest home win against NorthEast United when they thrashed the Highlanders 5-0 at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex. While for the rest of the three seasons, the club have only managed to stand as high as sixth in the league table.
Constant managerial changes have reflected the Stallions’ on-field performances. Previously, Franco Colomba, David Platt, Antonio Habas, Popovic, Marcos Paqueta and Miguel Angel Portugal have all held the reigns, but did not stay for long.
Amongst them all, Popovic was the most successful and under him the team looked genuinely positive and confident. However, the club failed to retain the services of the 51-year-old for the ongoing season and eventually hired former Delhi Dynamos head coach Miguel Angel Portugal, who in-turn was sacked after only three games in-charge.
Under the Spanish coach, Pune City signed several exciting prospects such as Matt Mills, Jonathan Vila, Robin Singh and Nikhil Poojary for the ongoing season. However, the Stallions have failed to secure all three points from any of their opening four games, with a draw away to Delhi, a derby loss at Mumbai City and thumping defeats against Bengaluru FC and FC Goa.
With the sort of talent Pune have got in their squad, they can prove to be a very strong side provided they get proper direction. Much was expected from Portugal, however, the Spaniard could not prove to be worthy of the job.
At the start of the season, after his appointment as Pune City's head coach, the tactician made some controversial comments, when asked about his past failures with the other ISL franchisee. “Last season in Delhi, we had the worst budget. Now in Pune, we have a better budget. It is an important factor, as having a high 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,” the 62-year-old explained.
After the sacking of Portugal, Technical Director Pradyum Reddy took charge of the team as an interim coach. However, Reddy also faced a similar fate as Portugal as the Stallions went down 4-2 against a dominating FC Goa side.
“We scored one goal in the first three games, we scored two today against one of the best teams in the league, one of the fittest teams in the league," Reddy quipped after his side's loss against the Gaurs on Sunday.
"That gives us confidence. You could see the work rate, you could see the combinations between Marcelinho, Alfaro and the others. That is a positive we are going to take from this game and going into the next game," he added.
Pune City take on Kerala Blasters in their next game on Friday. The Stallions hope to bounce back in the league with a win to build on their solid display of last season. With at least a couple of consecutive wins, the club will look forward to stabilizing their performances, which have not been helped by the constant chopping and changing in the dugout.