The Stallions enjoyed their best campaign yet thanks to a revitalised squad and a shrewd manager.
If you have followed the Indian Super League closely in the recently concluded season, you wouldn’t question someone who says that FC Pune City were, if not the best, then for sure the second best team throughout the campaign. The experienced Indian lot consisting of big names like Vishal Kaith, Gurtej Singh and Adil Khan, along with some of the best foreign players in Jonatan Lucca, Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro meant they were not short of star power in every position.
On top a well-rounded squad, it was the signing of Ranko Popovic was the one to make the biggest impact on this team. After changing managers every season with very little success, Pune City finally seem to have found the right person to guide them. For a team that failed to qualify for the semi-finals in any of the past three editions, staying in the top half of the table throughout the season was indeed a big achievement. But, it was disheartening for the fans to see their team go down just when it mattered most in the playoffs.
The team’s performance in the inaugural Super Cup added insult to injury for the fans. The Stallions got thrown out of the competition by the I-League’s Shillong Lajong. Nevertheless, the team proved it’s credentials over the course pof the season
Fact Sheet for Indian Season 2017-18
Season Finished: 4th
Games Played: 19
Win %: 47.3%
Pune City started the season on the wrong foot. A reported disagreement between the management and Spanish coach Antonio Lopez Habas meant the team would conduct its initial pre-season training under Pradhyum Reddy who serves as the Head of Youth Development and assistant coach.
Pune played five opponents in pre-season, two of them the titans of Indian football, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. However, they remained unbeaten throughout the five games, only failing to beat eventual champions Chennaiyin FC in a game that saw both the teams sharing the honours. The Stallions scored 16 goals and conceded only four in return. The wins against the two Kolkata giants were the highlights of their pre-season.
Citing Baljit Sahni as the Flop of the Season is a bit unfair to him. Sahni, a forward, was forced to play every game as a right-back. Secondly, he wasn’t too bad. It’s just that the team was way better than him and he failed to make any impact on the team’s performances.
A poor disciplinary record that even saw him get red-carded once and commit 13 fouls and a couple of errors that could have been avoided, qualified the 31-year-old for this unwanted recognition.
Sahni’s Performance in ISL 2017-18
Yellow/Red Cards : 1/1
Top 3 Performances
Manager’s Report Card
Popovic made the biggest impact on the team. From being a side struggling to cope with the bigwigs of the league, to themselves becoming bigwigs and toying with the opposition, Popovic helped this team through thick and thin.
A manager who did not shy away or hide from saying things bluntly, Popovic came into the news more for his suspension than for the great work that he did to build this team. While the team did underperform at the business end of the season, the Serbian looked like the answer to Pune City’s worries regarding the head coach.
Lessons to be Learned
The fans of Pune City had many reasons to cheer this season. A few improvements may be in the disciplinary aspect from both the management and from the players would mean they do not face the fate of playing without their head coach or key players in important games.
The fans would also want them to take the Super Cup more seriously next time around as it can be won in lesser games and for a team like Pune City that has won nothing yet, it will be a good way to start filling their trophy cabinet.
Also, an improvement in the consistency and home record would mean they will have a bright chance of ending the next season with the crown.
This was Pune City’s best campaign in the ISL. It was the first time that we reached the knockout phase of the ISL. We started the campaign with a loss to Delhi Dynamos at home, but the last-minute winner against Mumbai in the Maharashtra Derby fired up a campaign I’ll always remember. Over the course of the season, Pune struggled to win at home, but had a formidable away record. We lost only two of 10 away games.
This season, the Stallions had one of the best attacks in the ISL with Emiliano Alfaro and Marcelinho leading the line. For me, Marcelinho was our player of the season. He was impressive in midfield, often lead the attacks and created many chances. His eight goals and seven assists show just how good he was. Vishal Kaith was the wall in front of the goal. He had seven clean-sheets, the joint best in the ISL. The future looks really bright for him. Adil Khan, Marcos Tebar, Sahil Panwar are some other players who really impressed me.
Ranko Popovic has done wonders with this side. Of course, his suspension hurt the team at time, but he guided them to their highest ever finish. I hope he continues for a long time and leads us to our first ISL title. After this season, I am really optimistic about next campaign. I wish Pune sign one or two more creative midfielders and a strong centre-back. This team has potential to be the best team in the country.