ISL 2016: Can Coach Habas repeat ATK's success mantra with FC Pune City?
FC Pune City were beginning to believe they can taste success this time around only to be jolted by twin injuries even before they could play their first match in the Hero Indian Super League this year. The injury to marquee player Eidur Gudjohnsen and defender Andre Bikey has somewhat pushed the team backwards. Gudjohnsen, who was with the Iceland squad at Euro 2016 where they grabbed world attention, was expected to play a star role as a marquee.
The former Chelsea FC and Barcelona midfielder has tons of experience and looked in good shape during their pre-season tour of Spain until an unfortunate injury cut-short his ISL journey even before it started. If that was not enough, Cameroonian defensive midfielder Andre Bikey has also been ruled out with an injury.
FC Pune City’s approach to building their team for this season is in sharp contrast to the first two years. For successive years, Pune bought some of the most accomplished players that the ISL has seen but the names rarely delivered. This year, the approach was different as Pune caught hold of players who had proved themselves in previous editions of the ISL and were grooming them to shoulder the burden of expectations.
It all started right at the top with the signing of Antonio Lopez Habas as coach. Habas won the inaugural edition of ISL with Atletico de Kolkata and lost out in the semifinals against eventual winners Chennaiyin FC last season. Now he has sought a fresh challenge but can he work his magic again?
“The pre-season provided us with a chance to look at our players and work closely. We spent time ironing out any niggles, worked on players’ weaknesses and educated them about their bodies. Building match-winning fitness was the prime objective of our pre-season (in Spain),” said coach Habas.
When FC Pune City take the field for their opening match against Mumbai City FC at home on October 3, there will be a lot of familiar names. The most familiar name, though, will be right at the top as goalkeeper Edel Bete has reunited with his former coach to secure a rare hat-trick of titles. The Armenian goalkeeper won inaugural ISL with Kolkata and last year again finished as champion with Chennaiyin FC.
The familiarity does not stop there. In midfield, Habas has opted to count upon players who excelled last season. For example, Jonathan Lucca who was FC Goa’s defensive midfield star, is now at Pune, while Bruno Arias has also switched allegiance from NorthEast United to Pune.
“During pre-season, we spent time building match-winning fitness which was the prime objective. Without fitness, our tactics, team spirit and technical skill will be redundant,” said Bruno.
Habas is a tough taskmaster and it helps that he has brought along with him players who are accustomed to his style of play. Defender Augustine Fernandes and striker Izumi Arata are two fine examples, and even the new players he has handpicked like Francis Fernandes (Delhi Dynamos), Narayan Das (FC Pune City), Yumnam Raju (NorthEast United) and Sanju Pradhan (NorthEast United) are all known for their discipline, on and off the field.
“The understanding between the players as well as the philosophy of the coach was being worked upon during pre-season,” said Arata, who scored five goals for Atletico de Kolkata last season.
Habas and his players will have plenty of motivation to prove a point. They have the momentum from pre-season too and under the Spanish coach’s meticulous direction, the only way appears to be up.