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Pune FC: Setting an excellent example for others to follow

12 Oct 2013, 23:04 IST
Thongkhosiem Haokip scoring a goal via header

Pune FC’s Thongkhosiem Haokip scoring a goal via header

Being a huge fan of football, recently I went out to feast my eyes on a contest between two distinct identities of I League. It was a match between veterans Mohun Bagan and the young, enthusiastic Pune FC. Expecting a good match, kids and older people turned out in huge numbers. The match was eventually won by Pune FC (2-0) and what was notable was how they controlled the proceedings almost throughout the game. During the match one of my friends asked me “Are we actually watching Mohun Bagan play?” I thought for a second and realized it was Pune FC who had upped its game.

Formed in the year 2007 and participating in the I-League ever since, Pune FC has consistently scaled new peaks season after season. Starting its I-League stint in the second division, Pune FC was quick to rise through the ranks. It entered the senior league within two years of its inception. In the first season at the highest level, Pune FC finished fourth. Currently in the fifth season of I-League, Pune FC has never seen a ranking lower than 5, which I think is phenomenal. Though the success it has achieved is appreciated all over, one must also take a look at the meticulous effort behind it.

Numerous factors have added up to make Pune FC an instant success. In I league, Pune FC was the first to accomplish several things. They were the first to have their own academy to groom budding players and turn them into stars. This is an academy where young talent is nurtured, and by climbing up the ranks these young players can eventually fulfil their dream of playing in the senior league. The story of Kolhapur-born Pune FC academy graduate Nikhil Kadam says it all. He is a hit among local fans now and the support he receives has helped him immensely to achieve great heights in his game.

In addition to this, the signing of Brazilian striker Edmar Figueira from Pune FC to a Portuguese top flight team was the first instance of a player from the I-League being signed for a team in a top 10 European league based on the UEFA coefficient. Pune FC was also the first ever Indian club to play a friendly against an English Premier League team. The recent signings of England-born and former Portsmouth FC academy product Calum Angus, former Villareal CF ‘B’ player Raul Fabiani and James Meyer, who played for Brisbane Roar in Australian A-league, speak volumes of the hard work put in by the scouts to make Pune FC a world class team.

The management of the club has ensured organized and structured approach to handle matters. They have recently signed a highly-rated Dutch coach Mike Snoei. All these efforts from the management have helped Pune’s football team keep up the will and spirit to take up new challenges.

Having said all this, I feel the sports scenario in India is also undergoing a major transformation. Now football is a sport not just followed and loved in a certain region of India but one that is slowly increasing its influence by marking its presence in rural India as well. I hope this would not only inspire the kids and youth but also nurture talent and convert the love for sport among people into a life-long passion.

Currently, Pune FC is the only I-League club that has its own academy. It has always operated U19 and U17 youth teams ever since its formation in 2007. This has resulted in the discovery of local talent for the club and in turn for India. I feel if others also follow suit, there would be an abundance of footballing talent in India. And I don’t think the day would be far when the dreams of thousands of football fans in India would turn into reality.

The dream of India playing the FIFA World Cup, and who knows, maybe even win it someday.

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