ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – FC Pune City

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ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – FC Pune City

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Subhayan Dutta

03/03/2019

If there was one team that had an absolute roller coaster of a season, it was the Stallions. The horse started with a nervy rider before another one took control over steering it straight before they eventually ended with the perfect jockey bringing them to the finishing line in the mid-table.

After a fourth-placed finish last season, where all their major imports, Emiliano Alfaro, Marcelinho, and Diego Carlos, were on the mark with Pune garnering 30 points from 18 league games, Pune had retained most of their prior stars for the 2018-19 season. However, their only deviation from the success formula was replacing Ranko Popovic with Miguel Angel Portugal, which was the beginning of their end.

Pune’s case this time was a unique one. It would be unfair to state that their players were out of form or that their imports failed to click, which, otherwise, has been the norm with most underperforming clubs. Pune’s single biggest blunder was their failure to get the right man to manage a perfectly balanced and talented squad.

What Didn’t

After guiding Delhi Dynamos to an eighth-place finish last season, Portugal eventually fell out with the administration before he was sacked. He had a short stint with second-tier La Liga side Granada CF, where he would win twice and lose thrice in five games. Nothing in his last two stints had hinted at him being a good manager, to begin with, and Pune’s decision to go with him regardless was atrocious on multiple levels.

The 63-year-old has, quite evidently, been on the decline ever since he had left Real Valladolid CF in 2015, where he has average points per game of 1.38. He managed four clubs in the next four years and hasn’t been able to get more than an average of 1.20 points a game. Dynamos, under him, saw just an average of 1 point per game but the lack of big names in their squad saw Portugal escape with his resume intact. However, all hell broke loose when he came to Pune City, where there was a proven squad at his disposal aided by a winning momentum from last season.

Though an injury returning Marcelinho was slowly being inculcated into the side, Portugal still had the likes of Diego Carlos and Emiliano Alfaro available, alongside an emerging Ashique Kuruniyan. Portugal went on to lose two matches before starting with a draw and his scepticism to have a preferred setup saw the first eleven failing terribly to adapt. With as many as 12 midfielders in the squad, and most of them rich in quality, Pune’s source of the attack was always going to be from the centre of the park. But Portugal could never give into the club’s philosophy. He was sacked only after three games and one point.

What Clicked

Portugal had left behind was a giant mess and the management had their hands tied now. Neither could they get a proper man in the middle of the season, nor did they want to get one in haste that would end up being another Portugal. The management needed someone to keep the side afloat in this period and they got exactly that in Reddy, whose contribution to the club was incredible.

A 10th place finish with Shillong Lajong FC in the 2011-12 I-League season and a three-year stint as assistant manager to Ashley Westwood in Bengaluru FC couldn’t really formulate a good resume, and Pune didn’t expect Reddy to work miracles out of his hat. He was brought to remind the players of the club’s philosophy and he did exactly that. 

Primarily sticking to a 4-2-3-1, Reddy could accommodate the midfield stalwarts in the first eleven around whom the squad was initially built and although slowly, but it reaped results. Though he started his campaign with a 4-2 loss to FC Goa, both Alfaro and Marcelinho were on the score sheet that game. Eventually, the likes of Marko Stankovic, Kuruniyan, and Diego Carlos were seen getting their mojo back. The structure was finally mastered by the time ISL was approaching the international break and Reddy eventually found the perfect setup in his last two games in charge with 3-4-3. Of course, Iain Hume’s return also played a huge role, and Pune had finally won two games on the trot beating Kerala Blasters 1-0 and FC Goa 2-1.

Though there’s hardly any evidence to justify this statement, but Phil Brown’s appointment seemed very much a byproduct of Reddy’s success with Pune in that formation. The former Hull City manager, with a history of turning tides within a short span, was expected to capitalize on Reddy’s momentum and further polish his successful formation, and the Englishman did exactly that.

Starting with a 4-1-4-1 setup against Chennaiyin City FC, which was eventually transitioned into a 3-4-3 by halftime, Pune won the match 2-1 in Brown’s first game in charge. They went on to draw twice and win twice in their next five games and the only chink Brown was able to find in Reddy’s armour was to instil more of Diego Carlos in the first eleven by encouraging Sahil Panwar as a centre half in place of Martin Diaz.

Pune might have had an average season this time but with Reddy as the technical director and Brown standing at the dug-out, next season could see the like-minded duo bring the team to its former glory making them actual title contenders.

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