FC Pune City are a club that have always shown great ambition but never really delivered on their firepower on paper. Last season they bought in the likes of Eugenson Lyngdoh, easily India’s best midfielder in the last couple of years, and Jackichand Singh, who was awarded the best player of the I-league for the 2014-15 season. Together with former Manchester City assistant manager David Platt, there were big name signings from global football like Tuncay Sanli and marquee player Adrian Mutu, thus holding a lot of promise last season. The team began well, stringing together a strong home stretch where the only blip came when they were beaten by Delhi Dynamos, but then once they travelled, they failed to mount any sustained pressure for a place in the playoffs.
This year, just like last year, they have chopped and changed quite a bit, but they have made a significant change at the helm of affairs by bringing in coach Antonio Lopez Habas, the Spaniard who guided Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) to the title in the first season on the ISL. With additions like Barcelona youth products Tato and Pitu, Arata Izumi, FC Goa’s midfielder Jonatan Lucca and Narayan Das, the team has an altogether new look and just like 2015, have a lot of promise.
Habas arrived in the ISL and took it by storm. He won the league with Atletico in his first year and lost in the semi-finals in the second. He is known for his work-ethic, aggression — there were reports of fisticuffs inside the tunnel involving him and an opposition marquee in the first season — and his team from the past two seasons have been compact and very well organised. He will most likely continue with the same approach and look to keep things tight at the back and make the opposition work for their goals.
Iceland’s Eidur Gudjohnsen, best known for his spells at Chelsea and Barcelona was announced as Pune City’s marquee this season. With his latest exploits having been with the Iceland national team at Euro 2016, Gudjohnsen was expected to be the most influential player in the scheme of things for Habas. However, it was recently announced that he has been withdrawn as the marquee due to injury. FC Pune City are yet to make any official announcement about a replacement.
The other key players
Arata Izumi who scored five goals last season for ATK joins Pune, a place he has a special connection with. Arata, who in 2013 became the first foreign-born player of Indian origin for the Indian team, played six seasons with Pune FC, who no longer have a senior team in the I-League, so a return to Pune almost seems like a homecoming for the Japanese-born Indian footballer. Arata’s wife also hails from the city that will be his new home for ISL 3.
Another important addition to the squad has been Narayan Das, who is considered to be India’s best left-back at the moment. The Tata Football Academy (TFA) graduate possesses the ability to contribute to attack and will be especially useful on the relatively compact playing surface at the Balewadi Sports Complex where Pune City will play their home games