After two disappointing seasons in the Hero Indian Super League, FC Pune City will be hoping that third time is the charm. However, the absence of their marquee player Eidur Gudjohnsen will not make things easy for them.
Italian manager Franco Colomba was appointed as the head-coach of the Maratha Stallions for the inaugural season of the Indian Super League (ISL). Unfortunately, his antics on and off the field proved to be damning for the Maharashtra side as they ended up finishing sixth on the table.
The club management decided to let go of the controversial manager for the second edition as they roped in former Manchester City assistant manager David Platt. The British came to the Balewadi Stadium with a philosophy of attacking football which he hoped to see his players inculcate. His arrival looked to work wonders for the side as they won four of their first five games in the season and were enjoying their time atop the ISL table. However, once they hit the road, their performances took a major slump. In fact, Pune failed to muster a single win away from the Balewadi Stadium, which saw them finish a disappointing seventh on the table.
Once again, the management was tasked to find a new head-coach and this time they decided to appoint someone with previous experience of managing in the country’s premier football tournament. They decided to rope in Atletico de Kolkata boss Antonio Lopez Habas. The Spaniard has already won the elusive trophy once and came close to winning it the second time last season, but saw his side knocked out in the semi-finals. He comes to a club with a prestigious reputation and the owners are optimistic that he will be the man to guide the club in the right direction.
His plans have undoubtedly been handed a huge blow as former Chelsea striker and Iceland’s Euro 2016 hero Eidur Gudjohnsen has been ruled out of the third edition of the ISL due to an ankle injury in his left leg. Overseas signing Andre Bikey will also miss the competition due to a thigh strain.
Goalkeepers: Edel Bete (Armenia), Arindam Bhattacharya, Vishal Kaith
One of Pune’s best acquisitions in the off-season is Edel Bete. The Armenian goalkeeper has had a touch of luck wherever he’s gone as he has managed to win the league on both occasions. In the inaugural edition, Bete was outstanding between the sticks for Atletico Kolkata and led them to glory. He left Kolkata in the off-season and signed for Marco Materrazzi’s Chennaiyin FC, where he also won the league. He is an invaluable addition to the side and is likely to be Pune’s number one.
Defenders: Eduardo Ferreira (Brazil), Gouramangi Singh, Dharmaraj Ravanan, Rahul Bheke, Yumnam Raju, Narayan Das, Augustine Melwyn Fernandes, Zodingliana Ralte
Cameroonian Andre Bikey was set to be a part of the squad, but has been ruled out for the entirety of the competition. He was decent in the league last season and could have been a key player in Habas’s side. However, the Spanish tactician has brought in a number of key Indian defenders in Narayan Das and Zondingliana Ralte. Das has been outstanding during his stint with FC Goa and Ralte has previous experience of playing at the Balewadi Stadium as he was a key member of the DSK Shivajians.
Gouramangi Singh and Dharmaraj Ravanan were part of FC Pune City last season and have been retained this time around. The Indian duo were mainstays in the Stallions’ side and have already grown popular with the home fans. Brazilian Eduardo Ferreira has also been roped in by Habas at Pune. The centre-back has grown from strength to strength in the Iranian Pro League and will bring organization to the Pune setup. Ferreira, 32, has eleven years of experience under his belt and could be tasked with the responsibility of marshaling the back four.
Midfielders: Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Arata Izumi, Lenny Rodrigues, Bruno Arias (Spain), Jonatan Lucca (Brazil), Sanju Pradhan, Pitu Comadevall (Spain), Francis Fernandes, Momar Ndoye (Senegal), Manish Maithani
Eugenson Lyngdoh was FC Pune City’s lynchpin last time around and has been retained by Habas this season. He has been exceptional in the last four seasons for both the national side as well as Bengaluru FC in the I-League. Another player retained is Lenny Rodrigues. The 29-year-old has been part of Pune’s setup for the last season and will continue to ply his trade at the Balewadi Stadium for the third season in a row. He is a two-time I-League winner and was voted the FPAI midfielder of the year in 2012. Arata Izumi, a Pune fan favourite, will be delighted to return to the city. The fans will undoubtedly be expecting a lot from the right winger.
Forwards: Anibal Zurdo Rodriguez (Spain), Jesus Rodrigues Tato (Spain), Gustavo Oberman (Argentina)
The side lacks the presence of any Indian strikers, but the foreign contingent will make up for the absence. Spanish striker Anibal Rodriguez is an Atletico Madrid academy graduate. During his fifteen-year career, he has represented a number of clubs in Spain and Mexico and will now be looking to embark on a new journey in the subcontinent. 31-year-old Argentine Gustavo Oberman is an attacking-midfielder cum central striker and will be making his ISL debut this season. He represented Argentine giants River Plate for a season before he began his world tour, playing for numerous clubs in Chile, Spain and Romania. It remains to be seen how Habas will utilize him, but is definitely set to be a key part of his plans. Jesus Tato is Pune’s newest recruit and is also a La Masia graduate. His experience playing with the Barcelona youth team will benefit Antonio Habas’s side and give the fans a new hero to cheer for.
Manager: Antonio Lopez Habas
Habas is likely to field a 4-2-3-1 formation with Rodriguez leading the line. Gustavo is likely to play off the Spaniard with Sanju Pradhan and Tato on either side of him. Lyngdoh is set to miss the first few games due to his commitments with Bengaluru FC, so Lenny Rodrigues is likely to partner Bruno Arias at the heart of midfield. Gouramangi Singh and Ferreira are likely to form a pairing at centre-back with Das and Ravanan as full-backs.