Regardless of who wins the I-League this season, one thing is certain – Pune FC have established themselves as a force to reckon with in Indian Football and the so-called dark horses at the start of the season are now in running for the second spot in I-League, if not the first spot. The Pune based side has come through the division-2 and are now the flag-bearer of the game in Maharashtra after disbandment of Mahindra United. The club has a special place in every fan’s heart thanks to their professional outlook, focus of youth and development of infrastructure – virtues which even the top Kolkata and Goan clubs can’t boast of. Pune FC recetly played its 100th I-League match and we take a look at what makes the club so special
Connect With The Fans
Pune FC has managed to strike a chord with the Pune citizens and has developed a considerable fan base for themselves. People from all strata of society are seen in large number in each and every match egging on the players chanting “Who are we? … PFC! Who are we? … PFC!” . The crowd support has been one of the main reasons why opposition teams find it tough to beat Pune FC at home as the crowd support acts as a 12th man. Even the best of Goan clubs like Dempo and Churchill Brothers have not managed to develop such fan-base.
The club has a strong following on social media as well and regularly interacts with the fans. Their Facebook fan following for the club has in fact crossed 50,000. The club also has a PFC TV, first of its kind in India, which regularly broadcasts news from the training, pre-match and post-match episodes keeping the fans attached to the club. No club in India has a dedicated television channel which brings each and every news about it. The club website is also well maintained and is regularly updated with news and match updates.
Pune FC is most professionally managed club in India and are a role model for other clubs. The summer Window saw Pune FC earn transfer fee when Lester Fernandes was transferred to Prayag United. Transfers in Indian Football usually involve free-agents as most of the clubs give short term contracts to players. In an unprecedented move of its kind Pune FC benefited from its professional attitude as they had a long-term contract with Lester. The club also has a proper and neat ticket procurement procedure which includes season tickets.
Like European clubs, the club has a reserve squad in addition to the main squad. The reserve squad is composed of mostly academy players and some fringe first team players who don’t get playing time with the first team. Sukhwinder Singh for example, played with the reserve team in the All India Gold Cup after coming back from injury and then was drafted into the main team. Pune FC reserves won that tournament. The reserve team provides an opportunity to young academy players to play alongside seniors like Shanmugam Venkatesh and gain valuable experience. They also regularly participate in tournaments held across the nation.
Pune FC proved why they are the best in the nation when it comes to youth development as their U-20 side, consisting of players from Peninsula Pune Football Club Academy won the U-20 I-League for the second consecutive time fending from competition from the likes of Tata Football Academy, SESA Football Academy and other Goan and Kolkata giants. The Peninsula FC academy headed by Ranjan Chowdhury, the Head of Youth Development at the club and offers selected youngsters a two year program where they undergo 2000 hours of grinding training.
The Academy as its objective states:
” The objective of Peninsula Pune Football Club Academy is to provide the mainstream of Pune FC homegrown talent by the numbers year after year. That apart the aim is to hone talent and also begin a production line of young footballers trained and oriented to international standards available to clubs within India. The strategy is simple – “Spot and Hone Them Young” and give cadets the best, in terms of training with modern techniques, tactics, physical and psychological conditioning and related inputs.”
Nikhil Kadam has graduated from the academy team to the senior team and has represented the Red Lizards this season in I-League. Dhanpal Ganeshan is another graduate from the club who now plays in Pailan Arrows. Three of the players from the U-20 I-League winning team were also given a call-up for the U-19 national team camp. A number of European clubs have successful academies which grooms young players who are then inducted into the main team, Barcelona being a famous example. In this regard Pune FC have taken a step in right direction and this will serve them well in future.
In a league where players sign only one or two year contract and coaches are changed even before they settle down, Pune FC has set an example of how long-term vision and stability can work wonders for a club. Derrick Pereira has been at the club for more than 4 years now and the club has always finished in the top 5 under him and this year are challenging for the second spot. Youngsters like Jeje Lalpekhlua and Gurjinder Kumar have come up a long way and are now members of the national team. Even Arata Izumi has expressed his pleasure with the way management treats the players.
Facilities at the Balewadi Sports Complex are well maintained and are a notch above the other stadiums in the country and hence the national team camps are organised at Pune FC’s home while national team coach Wim Koevermans expressed his satisfaction at the facilities at the club.
Established in 2007, Pune FC has made a remarkable journey from a second division club to being one of the top clubs in India and the club is a role model for other clubs in the I-League. Pune FC ‘s rise shows that if professionally managed and properly marketed , Indian Football clubs can create a space for themselves. At a time when we debate whether I-League has done any good to Indian Football and talk about induction of new corporate backed clubs, one thing is for certain – Pune FC is indeed I-League’s gift to Indian Football.