ISL 2017: Passionate Popovic out to make FC Pune City both attractive and aggressive next season
Indian Super League clubs have seen their fair share of highs and lows in the first three seasons of the competition. But one club that has always shown promise of achieving something big in the ISL but failing to capitalize on a good start or a long bad run of form has been FC Pune City who have been associated with the 'underachievers' tag in the league.
To change the perception around the club and to have a solid season 4, the club owners have hired Ranko Popovic, a fiery character from Serbia to take over from Antonio Habas - another fiery character - who left Pune because of the extended duration of the ISL. Popovic has just over two months to make the Stallions ready for the challenges ahead, a difficult task to say the least with new players and new surroundings.
"Popovic is a fighter", claimed Gaurav Modwel, FC Pune City's CEO recently when asked about the club's new manager. Popovic began his managerial stint in 2001 and has had experiences in Serbia, Spain, Japan and Thailand. The 50-year-old former centre-back recently spoke with Sportskeeda on the challenges ahead and on various issues pertaining the Stallions.
Popovic was quite open when asked about what attracted him towards the ISL. He said, "To be honest, I didn't know much about the league in India and was in talks with a number of clubs. But a meeting with Pune's CEO changed my thinking about the ISL and immediately made me accept their offer. I and the CEO had a nice dinner over which we sealed the deal."
The new man in charge has started training with his new team and is happy with the first few sessions that he has conducted with the players. "The players are back after a long break. They will need some time to back to the desired levels. But they are showing an eagerness to learn which is very much needed for a new coach."
Popovic focuses a lot on man-management and wants to create a nice atmosphere in the FC Pune City unit. He has the belief that the players need to be satisfied and content if they are to perform at the highest level. The 50-year-old wants to a create a family environment in the camp where the players are open enough to talk with the management staff about anything and everything.
"Ahead of the new season, we have to make players mentally strong and fit. For me, this is the most important aspect." It is pleasing to see a manager in the modern age of football focus on the mental wellbeing of players rather than just on the results. "To make my players mentally ready", is the phrase most used by Popovic in this chat.
In his previous stint with Thailand's Buriram United, Popovic won the Thai League Cup and Mekong Club Championship. A season earlier before he arrived, Buriram finished fifth. With Real Zaragoza in Spain's Segunda division, Popovic led them to the playoff finals and just missed out on a La Liga berth by a slender margin of goal difference.
Earlier that season, no one had predicted Zaragoza to make a stake for promotion. His time in Japan also tells a similar story. One can see a trend here which then makes it easy to understand why the Serb decided to pack his bags and come to Pune for the Indian Super League. The Stallions finished a disappointing sixth last season.
Pune's previous head coach Habas was often criticized for his pragmatic style of football. Habas assigned his team to win, there were no two ways about it. The thing with Popovic is that he too wants to win, but in his managerial career, he has never compromised on his attractive style of football.
On the brand of football that Popovic's FC Pune City will play this season, the gaffer said, "I don't like to wait for an opportunity to counter-attack. My style has always been attractively aggressive and I always want to outscore my opponents. We won't play for draws, we will play proper football. If you give 100% and still lose even after playing attractively, you can take heart in that loss as well." To aid his attacking style, Pune have the likes of Kean Lewis, Marcelino and Emiliano Alfaro in their ranks which makes this attacking unit of the Stallions a fearsome one.
Popovic wants to aim as high as possible in the upcoming season and lead the Stallions into their first ever knockout stage in the ISL. Judging by the impression that he has made in this meeting, it is certain that he is up for the task and Pune have signed a passionate man who looks to be perfect for the job.
Popovic looks clear with his ideas, plays football the way it should be played and always has had an endearing relationship with the fans of all his previous clubs. His thoughts on the importance of support from the fan base give another example of his knack of guiding everyone together towards the same goal.
Popovic explained, "A club with all its players and wealth is nothing without its supporters. The fans help you in difficult moments and always give their last drop energy in supporting their team. If we win, we win together as a group, as simple as that!" The Indian Super League needed a smart and a firebrand character to light up the league and in Popovic, it might have found the one.