Pune FC was considered as one of the title contenders in the middle of the season, but they lacked direction and guidance under Mike Snoei as they ended up in 7th position. This was their worst ever position since the Professional club got promoted to I-League in 2009. Red Lizards who finished second in I-League 2012/13 season was expected to mount a serious title challenge this season. Pune FC petered out when it mattered and the lack of man management and motivational skills left them in disarray in the second half of the season.
Even though they finished 7th, the progress made by some of their academy products is encouraging to say the least. That is believed to be one of the criterias put forward by the Pune FC management to Mike Snoei and the reason why he is still in charge despite a poor season according to Pune FC standards. Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, Central defender Salam Ranjan Singh, Midfielders Fanai Lalrempuia, Dhanpal Ganesh, Winger Nikhil Kadam and Striker Thongkhosiem Haokip have raked up some important minutes under their belt and their performances has been noteworthy on more than one occasion.
Pune FC’s season started with the Durand Cup and it was a clear indication of the clubs focus. A number of academy products played in the prestigious Durand Cup as the Red Lizards suffered back to back defeats against Army Red and ONGC sealed an early exit for the I-League side. The youthful team couldn’t step up to the occasion, and in search of experience Pune FC has lost out an opportunity to add a much needed first trophy in the cabinet.
Mike Snoei had brought a lot of hope to Pune FC faithful after the departure of Derrick Perriera. The Dutchman couldn’t replicate the success of his predecessor, but the faith shown by Pune FC management is unknown in a sacking friendly Indian Football atmosphere. A 7th place finish in I-League or a win-less streak of 12 games or just 3 wins out of 27 matches isn’t good enough even for a bottom placed team but Pune FC management has stood by their head coach even in dire situations.
Red Lizards has got off to a dream start with 5 wins out of first 7 league games, but their inability to build on to that successful start has not only cost them I-League title challenge but it has lead to their worst ever finish in terms of league position. Pune FC could only add 2 more victories in their remaining 17 games shows how poor they have been in the latter parts of I-League.
Pune FC had a relatively easy group in Federation Cup being paired with second division side Eagles FC, and I-League strugglers United SC and Churchill Brothers. Red Lizards continued their dismal form in cup competitions as the team finished rock bottom in that group with just 1 point secured from 3 games.
Their story was similar in continental competitions as well. Pune FC was outsmarted by Vietnam side Hanoi T&T in AFC Champions League qualifiers despite playing in home conditions. Their fate in AFC Cup group stages was similar, as the Red Lizards bowed out of the tournament even before completing their fixtures. Pune FC’s performances were credible against the two teams progressed from their group Kitchee SC and Nay Pyi Taw FC, but their defeats against Tampines Rovers showed their inability and lack of game plan even against the weakest of opponents.
Pune FC’s biggest failure was finding the back of the net. The Red Lizards scored 28 goals in 24 I-League matches while conceding 32 goals. The team ran out of steam towards the end of the matches and never looked like clinching the results with some inspirational performances towards the closing stages. Even though Mike Snoei had promised attacking football in the mould of Dutch football, The professional club witnessed a torrid time on the pitch through some barren spells.
It is very difficult to pick a best player when the whole team under performs. Play maker Douhou Peirre was a creative force whenever a free role was given to him, but he failed to score goals that could have won the games for his team. Another strong contender for the best player award was British defender Calum Angus who bagged few Man of the Match awards at the start of the season. He was immense at the start of the season and was a rock along with Anas Edathodikka. The stand in skippers injury turned things around as Calum Angus cut a frustrated figure along with the academy products at the heart of Pune FC defence. The rumors of a big money move mid way through the season also affected the foreigners performance in a big way. Calum lost his desire and was seen walking in the park on a few occasions as calamitous defending cost Pune FC few points this season.
Skipper Anas Edathodikka was also a contender at some point, but injuries took a toll of the player and that came at the expense of a consistent back four which leaked goals at vital moments. Former Bolton Wanderers forward Riga Mustapha Rahmat played well in the number 10 role but looked clue less when played as a lone striker. The emergence of youngster Thongkhosiem Haokip is a huge positive for Pune FC academy and management. Mike Snoei’s decision to tamper with Gurjinder Kumar‘s position has cost him a spot as the best left back in the country.
Many people expected Shahin Lal Meloly to protect the Pune FC goalposts at the start of the season, Goalkeeping coach Glen Johnson had other ideas as he trusted youngster Amrinder Singh to man the posts. The punjabi lad hasn’t disappointed the camp since then. The 20-year-old goal keeper has played more than 2000 minutes of competitive football this season and is looking like worth the investment in Pune FC academy. His performances was incredible especially in the open battles in AFC Cup 2014. His decision making can be improved and his reflexes can get better with time and experience. If he continues the current development and the flashes of brilliance shown this season, he will become another spider-man in the history books of Indian Football justifying our selection.
Pune FC as a team failed to stand tall when it mattered and that has been their biggest set back this season. Foreign recruit Mirjan Pavlovic was brought with the aim of shoring up a faltering attack to put their title challenge back on track. Even though he scored 3 goals, he was unfit to compete throughout and looked a wastage of money in a League where foreigners are the difference makers. Right backs Srikanth Ramu and Othallo Tabia also failed to make that spot their own as Pune FC was forced to try out other options in that position. Inconsistent displays from Mumtaz Akthar and Anthony D’Souza despite getting a run in are also an area of concern.
If one asks the worst player of Pune FC, he was sitting on the Pune FC dug out. Manager Mike Snoei lacked the imagination and man management skills and failed to get the team going as a unit. His inability to change the game from bench or slide the arrest and alarming dip in form produced the worst ever season for the Red Lizards.
Most Memorable Match
Pune FC 2 – 0 Kitchee SC
Pune FC had to wait for their 7th match to register their first win in continental stage. The inconsequential affair between group leaders Kitchee SC and rock bottom Pune FC, was marred by a rain soaked pitch as well. The Red Lizards stood tall and delivered a morale boosting win against an unbeaten side in AFC Cup who were the runaway leaders of Hong Kong league.
Most Disappointing Match
Pune FC 2 – 5 Tampines Rovers
Pune FC’s fate in continental competition was sealed when they went down twice against Singapore side Tampines Rovers. They had lost all their matches in AFC Cup Group H when they visited Pune and the home side was expected to take three points to strengthen their claims for progression. As expected Pune FC started brightly and scored two goals to take hold of the proceedings as well. The manner in which the Red Lizards capitulated afterwards describes the story of their season. Tampines Rovers scored 5 goals past the hapless Pune FC defence and the team looked out of depth to nullify the threat posed by the organization. The lack of character shown by the team was more damaging than the result on the night and it eventually paved the way for Pune FC’s exit in continental competitions.
Pune FC’s focus on developing youngsters need to be recognized and congratulated but it has definitely come at the cost of the team. Some of the performances from the youngsters were amazing, but their lack of experience was evident and the experimentation proved too much as they failed to arrest the slide. Looking into the next season, they can hope to capitalize on the youngsters progress but this has come at the expense of the team. The manager got the balance wrong between experience and youth and it eventually paved way for Pune FC’s most disappointing season so far.