Since its inception in 2007, Pune Football Club has had a dream run over the years. After qualifying for the top flight, they have not looked back. Pune FC have maintained the “top five positions team” tag in the 3 years that have gone by. Indian football, for the first time ever, witnessed a top flight EPL team play on its soil, thanks to Pune FC. Like last season, this fourth season in top flight football, too promises to be a good one for Pune FC. The Hard Tackle analyzes the squad for 2012/23 season and see what is in store for all, this season.
The team is a perfect blend of youth and experience. And despite the fact that many of their key players from last season have left, they still have a strong squad. As many as ten players from last season have been released and five new signings have been made as reinforcements. Adding to this two players, who were part of Pune FC U19 team which won U19 I-League last season, have been promoted from the academy.
Subrata Paul, NS Manju, Rollingson Hyungyo, Kamaljeet Kumar, Baldeep Singh, Lester Fernandez, Jayashelan Prasad, Paresh Shivalkar, Nirmal Kumar, Mandjou Keita
Abhra Mondal, Shahinlal Meloly, Amrinder Singh
Last season Pune FC were haunted by injuries to every player who stood in goal. Departure of the talismanic Subrata Paul from Pune FC can turn out to be a crucial in their pursuit of the top spot. The India #1 was not only brilliant in the goal but also was the captain of the team last season. Having said that, he was on the sidelines for most part of last season due to an injured knee. This gave a chance to young Shahinlal Meloy to prove his worth. He was the best player for Pune FC in the friendly match against Blackburn rovers. Unfortunately, Pune FC suffered a blow when he too was injured so Abhra Mondal had to be brought on loan from East Bengal. Amrinder Singh from the PPFCA played a few games after Abhra Mondal but he too was sidelined due to an injury. This season Mandal has been permanently transferred after his impressive performance. Although Mondal has not begun training with the squad it will be a tough call for the coaches and manager to select the main goalkeeper this season once he recovers fully, which of course, is a good sign.
Othallo Tabia, Srikanth Ramu, Anas Edathodika, Caitano Costa, John Benedick, Chika Wali, Kamardeep Singh, Gurjinder Kumar, Nallappan Mohanraj, Zohmingliana Ralte.
Zohmingliana Ralte and N Mohanraj are the two new signings for Pune FC this season. 23 year old Mohanraj is an experienced player, having played in Bangalore and Bengal. He has a combined experience of 7 years before coming to Pune FC. Being left footed, he adds a lot of depth to the squad. Another young exciting prospect signed recently is Z Ralte. The youngest defender in the squad, the 22 year old is a central defender and has been signed from Shillong Lajong FC. With the recruitment of the second Mizo-based player in squad, the coach has an additional option at the centre back position apart from the already present Chika Wali, Anas Edathodika and Caitano Costa. Last season, Srikant Ramu and Gurjinder Kumar had made the full back positions theirs giving top class performance regularly. Kamardeep Singh is a defender who has graduated from the academy. His aim would be to step up and make a name for himself whenever an opportunity presents itself. Overall, the squad looks solid at the back with coach having a headache to choose the best among equals.
Karma Tsewang, Venkatesh Shanmugam, Sujie Kumar, Douhou Pierre, Mumtaz Akthar, Sukhwinder Singh, Asim Hassan, Maninder Singh, Vellington Rocha
Sukhwinder Singh and Mumtaz Akhtar are the two new midfield reinforcements signed this season. Former Pune FC player Vellinton Rocha has been recalled with youngster Sujie Kumar promoted to play top flight after proving his worth with the junior Pune FC team. Sukhwinder is an attacking midfielder hailing from Punjab. He has played under coach Derrick Perriera in the past and is an ex-India International played under Stephen Constantine. Mumtaz Akthar belongs to Punjab as well and comes with an experience of spending three years under Ranjan Chowdhury, current PPFA coach, at Tata Football academy at Jamshedpur. Akthar has previously played in Bengal and Sikkim and has been rated very highly.
Vellington Rocha is another PPFCA product, who had taken break to go and play for Margao FC. He impressed there and was closely monitored by the Pune FC scouts. But the midfield engine is still the charismatic Douhou Pierre. His skills and finesse with the ball is something which has amazed Pune FC fans time and again. Once again, he will be the key to Pune FC’s creativity in the midfield. With the presence of the old war horse S. Venkatesh in the squad, Perriera can exploit flanks. Karma Tsewang too has shown moments of brilliance last season. With more games under his belt, he can gain confidence to be devastating on any given day. The midfield pair of Maninder Singh and Asim Hassan add more depth to the squad.
James Moga, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Subash Singh, Jeh Williamson
The biggest signing of the season so far for Pune FC has been James Moga. The south Sudan skipper and striker is 29 and has been signed from Sporting Club De Goa. He was the top scorer for SC Goa last season and has played with a number clubs in the Middle East and Bangladesh before coming to India. With his inclusion Pune FC will hope not to miss Mandjou Keita, the top scorer for Pune FC last season. Jeje and Subhash had an impressive last season with Pune FC. The former went on to become the Indian U-21 team skipper after his performance last season. Subhash too has shown a lot of promise last season with his hard work, persistence, commitment and clinical finishing making him one of the favorites of Derrick Perriera.
Jeh Williamson is another bright prospects in front of the goal. Another product from the youth academy, Williamson has come up with some neat performances when summoned upon by the coach. This season he will be hoping to make a larger impact.
The Asian origin player is yet to be signed but chances of Arata Izumi to be re-signed are high since he has been a real fan favorite at Pune FC. There are also chances that Pune FC might sign another PAO player should Arata get his Indian citizenship.
One of the main reasons of an excellent second half of last season for Pune FC was the change in game play. There has been a clear distinction in the game play and strategy since Derrick Perriera took charge and one can very well say that he knows the team in and out. “More ball on the ground” was the message last season after an indifferent start and it seemed to have worked excellently as far as the results were concerned. Pune FC began to enjoy more possession and the crowd, who were frustrated of seeing the same long ball strategy until then, welcomed the new style. The new seasons signings suggest that Perriera plans to incorporate the same strategy this year since all the players are technically sound. Pune FC management has been very happy to see the progress of the side under Perriera and have full faith in his abilities.
In other club news, Pune FC has a lot of things on the agenda. They are planning to buy stakes in one of the championship sides in the EPL. They are also planning to start the construction of a fully equipped residential academy this season. If that happens, it will only be the second residential academy of India. Although nothing on the above has been officially confirmed by the Pune FC management as of now, Pune FC sure is on the path of a revolution.
Pune FC like last season, will be one of the clubs to watch out for this season. The ambitious signings, rigorous practice sessions and most importantly a self belief suggest that Pune FC will be looking to bag at least one trophy which has eluded them so far. Their performance in the tournaments apart from the I-League has not been at par with that in the I-League, to say the least. And this year too, the focus will mainly be on I-League. Infamous as slow starters, if Pune FC is able to wipe the tag off, they surely can be one of contenders for winning the league.
Article written by: Chetan Shrikant Zawar