As the drama surrounding the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League was beginning to intensify, I-League saw the addition of a new team after the corporate bids were evaluated. While everyone expected the new team to be from Hyderabad, the new team announced turned out to be from Pune. The owners Kalyani Group christened their team as Bharat FC after the ancient name of India – Bharat and unveiled their logo which carries a tiger. The club appointed Stuart Watkiss as their head coach while Stanley Rozario was named as the assistant coach. The team who will play there home matches at the Balewadi Sports Complex along with cross town rivals Pune FC. The team chose not to participate in the Federation Cup and will be making their debut in the I-League where no doubt all eyes will be on them after Bengaluru FC made a stunning debut last season by winning the I-League title.
Goalkeepers – Arindam Bhattacharya, Harshad Meher, Shahinlal Meloly
Arindam Bhattacharya put in some impressive performances for FC Pune City in the Indian Super League and was one of the top Indian goalkeepers in the event. The former Churchill Brothers goalkeeper will look to put in some impressive performances under the bar for the newly formed side and stake a claim for a national team comeback. Shahinlal Meloly joined Bharat FC from cross town rivals Pune FC where he had lost his place in the starting eleven after having made a name for himself with Viva Kerala. Meloly rose to fame after his splendid performances in Pune FC’ s match against Blackburn Rovers where he earned praise from Steve Kean, the then Blackburn manager. 22 year old Harshad Meher who has played for Air-India before is the third custodian in the squad.
Defenders – Gouramangi Singh, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Dharmaraj Ravanan, James Naorem Singh, Bikramjeet Singh, Bobby Hassell, Shahbaz Saleel.
With 71 international caps to his name, Gouramangi Singh is the most experienced central defenders in the country and is expected to lead the back four for Bharat FC. The 28 year old central defender has been patchy off late but still remains an integral part of the national team having won all major trophies the team has won in last few years. Coming on back off an impressive Indian Super League stint with FC Pune City Mehrajuddin Wadoo will be another key player in the defensive setup of the club. Wadoo, who hails from Kashmir, can play both as a central defender and a defensive midfielder and it will be interesting to see where coach Stuart Watkiss utilizes him. The presence of former Churchill Brothers captain Dharmaraj Ravanan makes the defensive unit quite strong. Ravanan has won the Federation Cup and the I-League with Churchill Brothers and at 28 is one of more experienced central defenders in the country.
24 year old Shahbaz Saleel is a versatile player who can play both as a left back and a left winger. Shahbaz made a name for himself at ONGC and Viva Kerala and was billed as one the best young players in the country before his career took a nosedive at the end of 2011-12. A Tata Football Academy productt, Shahbaz will be hoping to revive his career at Bharat FC. 34 year old Bobby Hassell comes with over ten years of playing experience in the Championship and in his role as a player cum coach, he will be primarily entrusted with the role of passing his experience to the younger Indian players. Bobby is primarily a right back but can play any where in the defense and is a also a capable holding midfielder. His versatility will be key to Bharat FC’ s fortunes this season. 21 year old James Singh who has played for Kenkre FC in the I-League second division and former Pailan Arrows player Bikramjeet Singh round off the list of defenders.
Midfielders – Lester Fernandez, Simranjeet Singh, G. Vignesh, J Prasad, Dipendu Dowary, Adil Khan, Steven Dias
Once hailed as a promising player, Lester Fernandez lost his way when he moved from Pune FC to Prayag United and sicne then he has failed to garner regular playing time. The 24 year old left midfielder will hope to get his career back on track in Pune but this time with Bharat FC. Delhi Dynamos duo of Adil Khan and Steven Dias bring in the much needed I-League experience to the the otherwise inexperienced midfield. Dias who has featured in 51 matches for the national team is expected to whip in crosses from the right flank while Adil Khan might be seen in the heart of the midfield for the Kalyani owned club.
Dipendu Dowary gave a decent account of himself in the I-League second division and Federation Cup last year with Bhawanipore FC. Dowary scored against Dempo in the Federation Cup last year and would look to make a name for himself in the top flight. J Prasad has also been roped in from Bhawanipore FC while former Arrows holding midfielder Simranjeet Singh has joined Bharat FC from Churchill Brothers. Signed from South United, G. Vignesh is attacking midfielder capable of playing on either wings.
Forwards – Manjeet Singh, Rajinder Kumar, Kris Bright, Subhash Singh, Surojit Bose
28 year old New Zeland international Kris Bright will lead the strike force for the newly formed club. Bright was the first player signed by the club and has an international goal to his name. Bright brings with him the experience of playing in the A-League, Dutch first division and the top flights of Norway, Greece and Hungary. Bright has also played for the New Zealand under-17 and under-20 sides, scoring a total of 10 goals over 12 appearances for both sides. Bright posses a lethal right foot and will be the focal point of Bharat FC’ s attacks. Subhash Singh leads the Indian striking contingent at Bharat FC and the 24 year old speedy forward would look to support Kris Bright upfront. Subhash linked up well with Nicolas Anelka at Mumbai City FC and has the experience of representing India at the U-19 and U-23 levels. Subhash brings with him the experience of playing in Pune as he spent four season with Pune FC featuring in over 50 matches. Former Indian international Manjeet Singh who featured in the 2007 Nehru Cup has been signed from Bhawanipore FC. 21 year old former Arrows and United SC striker Rajinder Kumar and Surojit Bose are the other options coach Watkiss has at his disposal.
48 year old Stuart Watkiss who holds UEFA A and B coaching licenses is in charge of Bharat FC and the Brit brings with him an enormous coaching experience. Prior to joining Bharat FC, Watkiss was the youth manager at Grimsby Town, a conference division team in England. As a coach of Mansfield Town, he played a key role in team’s promotion to the division two. He was also in-charge at Hull city for three years besides having stints at Kidderminster Harriers and Barnsley in various capacities.
Stanley Rozario, former assistant coach of the national team will be the assistant to Watkiss and having being in charge of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Salgaocar in the past, Rozario brings with him the vital experience of Indian conditions and the Indian players which may prove to be decisive. Zoran Lemaji is the goalkeeping coach at Bharat FC and haing served as the goal keeping coach of Montenegro before, he is expected to help the custodians at the club
The expectations from Bharat FC are high following what Bengaluru FC managed to achieve in their debut season but it looks highly unlikely that the club will achieve what Bengaluru FC did in their debut season. The team has a some experienced names in the defense but lacks experience in the midfield. It will be interesting to see what formation Stuart Watkiss adopts when Bharat FC open their campaign on the 24th against five time champions Dempo. The team will look to Bobby Hassel and Kris Bright for inspiration and guidance. Despite some consistent performances, Pune FC has not yet managed to capture the attention of Pune and if Bharat FC can win a national level tournament in the coming years, football in Pune could see a massive upswing. TheHardTackle predicts a mid table finish for Bharat FC in the eleven team I-League.