Appointing Antonio Habas was a statement of intent from FC Pune City's management ahead of the new season as the Spaniard is arguably the most experienced manager of the Indian Super League having won the inaugural season with Kolkata and then leading them to the semifinals in the second season. Pune completed a major overhaul ahead of the third ISL campaign after roping in a new manager and also overhauling almost their entire squad for the new season.
Results though have not been kind to the Stallions as the Hrithik Roshan co-owned side sit in the seventh spot with just one win, one draw, and two losses. Their 1-1 draw against Kerala Blasters on Monday was their first home point of the season. They also scored their first home goal of the season through their marquee signing Mohamed Sissoko.
Pune have missed manager Antonio Habas on the touchline
Habas received a four-match suspension last season for his altercation with Robert Pires of Goa and missed all four of Pune City's games until now.
Habas has made a name for himself as a vocal leader who is always animated on the touchline and looks to pass instructions to his team at every moment of the game. As history suggests, all the teams that have had their manager suspended from touchline duties have gone on to struggle. Even the likes of Manchester United suffered during a number of Sir Alex Ferguson's bans over his illustrious career.
From the four games that have taken place so far, Pune City seems to lack leadership on the field and the players seem to be playing without a definite plan against the opponents. The side seems to be devoid of leaders on the pitch and also in the dugout as, without Habas, the players seem to be a little lost. The Spaniard is an adaptive tactician and is known to change systems many times in a game whereas Pune have struggled yet to find their best eleven and subsequently their best combination.
Importance of Antonio Habas
The Spaniard is used to working under immense pressure and scrutiny. He won the league in the first ISL season when no one had given any chance to Atletico de Kolkata in the semis. He is known for his stubborn attitude and his teams emulate his philosophy with players often dropping deep to increase the number behind the ball.
Habas also advocates relentless pressing and had modeled Kolkata on the basis of their parent club, Atletico Madrid whose current manager, Diego Simeone employs a similar philosophy.
Pune City have looked bereft of ideas in the opening four games and with Habas returning against Chennayin, a better prepared Pune side is expected to be on display on their home ground. The Spaniard is a demanding manager and with Pune struggling to find momentum for 90 minutes, Habas' leadership on the touchline is going to have a huge impact on Pune's future.
Problems galore for FC Pune City
FC Pune City’s biggest problem this season has been their inability in the final third to complete that final pass. Eidur Gudjohnsen's injury might have affected their plans going forward but the club has enough talent to cause problems to the opponents on a regular basis.
The fullbacks, too, appear low on confidence and have been ineffectual for the most part. In 4 games, the Stallions have been unable to dominate a game on a single occasion and have been outplayed in most areas of the pitch.
Habas is known for the defensive work that he ingrains into his squad and while Pune's defense has been decent in ISL 3, the other areas of the team need some work. The midfield especially seems to be getting easily beaten. The Stallions have made many changes in the center of the park and not having a settled midfield is taking its toll on the team.
The road ahead for Antonio Habas
Habas had a strong midfield duo at Kolkata in the form of Borja Fernandes and Nato who were immense for the eventual champions. Pune, meanwhile have lacked that solidity in midfield but can work their way with Momo Sissoko and Jonatan Lucca. The duo can form a solid pair going ahead in the season and along with the arrival of India's rising star, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Pune City have a strong midfield base to work with.
Habas also had Fikru as his striker at Kolkata who was one of the best players of the first season and must try to work his magic with the existing forwards available at Pune in Anibal Zurdo and Dramane Traore.
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Pune City have an exciting squad to work with but Habas will need time to instill his ideas on this team. His teams were never known to score many goals but the Stallions must work on their defense to stop conceding to earn some draws and grab some 1-0 wins on the road. They need to start accumulating points in order to stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages for the first time.
On his appointment as Pune's manager, Habas was quoted saying, "The commitment of the FC Pune City management for having me as a part of the club and all its planning from the beginning was one of the primary reasons for me to join. This certainly is one of the most professionally managed clubs in the league and changing their fortunes will be a challenge that I am eagerly looking forward to."
Undoubtedly, this is one of Antonio Habas' toughest challenge to date but the Spaniard loves being the underdog and FC Pune City are certainly one.