Third season of Indian Super League is about to kick off in a week’s time and each of the eight franchises have concentrated to build up a formidable side in order to conquer the silverware. FC Pune City, the underachievers so far, have made drastic changes in their squad and hoping to make it at least to the semifinals for the first time in three years of ISL.
FC Pune City have performed miserably in past two campaigns as they finished sixth and seventh respectively in the 8-team tournament. Management have made some desperate alternations and roped in Antonio Lopez Habas as their new boss. The Spaniard has been the most successful manager of Indian Super League having won it in the inaugural campaign with Atletico De Kolkata and also took them through to the semis last season. FC Pune City, however, have suffered a couple of significant blows- their marquee signing former Chelsea and Barcelona forward Eidur Gudjohnsen and Cameroonian international defender Andre Bikey are ruled out for the entire campaign due to major injuries.
Habas has roped in goalkeeper Apoula Edel Bete (who has won the tournament in both occasions with ATK and Chennaiyin FC) alongside midfielder Bruno Arias who impressed for North-East United FC last year. Young Brazilian Jonatan Lucca, who has previous experience with Zico’s FC Goa, has signed for them as well. The Spaniard has brought in midfielder Pitu and winger Jesus Tato from his homeland along with Brazilian centre-back Eduardo Ferreira. Moreover, Argentine midfielder Gustavo Oberman and Mexican forward Anibal will bring further experience in the squad whereas 24 year old Senegalese forward Momar Ndoye, who has previous experience with Atletico Madrid B, is expected to bolster their attack with his speed and power.
Among the Indians, defender Augustin Fernandes and winger Arata Izumi have reunited with former ATK gaffer. Also they have retained veteran goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya and signed exciting young custodian Vishal Kaith who has been impressive for Shillong Lajong in domestic competitions. Rahul Bheke, Narayan Das, Yumnam Raju, Zodingliana Ralte have joined the side whereas veteran Dharmaraj Ravanan and Gouramangi Singh have been retained to strengthen their defense.
In midfield, they have roped in Francis Fernandez from Delhi Dynamos and Sanju Pradhan from North East United. However, Pune failed to retain Jackichand Singh who has joined Mumbai City FC, but kept hold of their midfield general Lenny Rodrigues and Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
FC Pune City are a rejuvenated force under new boss Antonio Habas who is lauded for his football philosophy, aggression, hard training and discipline. He is capable of turn things around swiftly and will be a huge influence in sidelines. Presence of Edel Bete, Bruno Arias, Jonatan Lucca and Eugeneson Lyngdoh along with proper replacements of Gudjohnsen and Bikey – FC Pune City can be considered the dark horse of the tournament.
Icelandic international Gudjohnsen’s injury is a huge blow for the Stallions. Their defense is still a concern as the orange force will miss the experience of Bikey and both Gouramangi and Ravanan have passed their prime. Habas has little time to replace someone of Gudjohnsen’s stature as his leadership expertise will certainly be missed. Indian players they brought in are mostly inconsistent and badly out of form in domestic circuit; yet they can trust on their new manager who has already lifted the trophy once with the likes of Mohammed Rafi, Baljit Sahni, Mohanraj and most notably Rakesh Masih.
Where they can finish:
There are other sides with greater strength and better squad depth in this year’s competition. But presence of Habas might influence them to make it to the knockouts, though they have to perform and compete at very highest level in order to achieve their season goals.
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