Pune Football Club : I League Debutants ? Doesnt seem so
If anyone takes a look at the I-League 2010 standings now, they will be in for a surprise. Do you know why? Towards the top you will obviously find all the big clubs in Indian football, but among them you will find a new name. A name at the 6th position after just 16 matches. The name of Pune Football Club.
Founded in 2007 by the Piramal group, PFC are debuting this season in the I-League. In spite of their relative inexperience they find themselves among the bigwigs of Indian football. Their season has been nothing short of phenomenal. It’s very easy for a new team to get bogged down by the pressure and the demands of the national league. But the important thing for PFC is that they have held their own.
After qualifying for the I- League the team started making the right noises by bringing in big names. Qualifying for the I-league and sustaining one’s form once you get there are two different things. Being newly promoted, experience was the need of the hour. The experienced Derrick Perriera took over as coach and ex-Indian captain Shanmugham Venkatesh, the most experienced player in the I-League, was brought in,. Douhou Pierre and Arata Azumi were brought in from Mahindra while G.Franco was brought in from SC Goa. But the transfer that made headlines was that of keeper Subrata Paul from East Bengal. The team from Pune was ready to go.
In the first match of the season, they were up against one of the most well-known clubs in Indian football, East Bengal. It was a daunting task, but at the end of 90 minutes, the teams were tied 0-0. A result not many may have predicted. After a great debut, PFC were given a reality check in their second game against Air India, a game which they lost 1-0. The next 5 matches were all draws. Notable results among them were draws against Churchill Brothers and Dempo.
The team was playing well. If they had held their nerve in the defence the picture might have been quite different. In 3 out of the 5 draws, PFC had taken the lead only to concede late goals. A match against Mohun Bagan was up next. Mohun Bagan’s Chidi scored a hat-trick that day to give the visitors a 3-0 win in Pune. PFC were playing the right way and doing the right things but they just could not register a win. Even up front the goals had dried up. 8 matches into the season, a much-needed month-long break followed. During this they played in the Federation Cup, where they missed out on a semi-final place.
As the I-League resumed in January, the only thing on the minds of the players and the fans was a win. And not only did they win one, they won 4 in a row. Something that no team had been able to achieve in the I-league this season. The floodgates had opened. They scored thrice in succession. Things just got better when they upset the mighty Chirag United in Pune to register their first win at home. A night the fans in Pune will never forget.
Three tough games followed – matches against Mahindra, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. PFC now had to prove that the 4 wins were not flukes. They collected 5 out of the possible 9 points. That meant PFC were unbeaten in their last 7 games, with the icing on the cake being the victory at Kolkata against the potent East Bengal. However, the unbeaten run has now come to an end. This weekend they suffered their first away defeat against Air India. The scoreline does nothing to reflect the match though. PFC outplayed Air India in all the departments but they just could not get the goals that mattered. Neither the players, nor the coach, nor the fans could have asked for anything better. In the last 8 matches they have picked up 5 victories, 2 draws and a loss. A run that has seen them reach as high as 5th in the table.
So what exactly has been the reason behind their success so far? Coach Derrick has been absolutely outstanding. He has kept his cool and has had faith in the team. The core of the team has been the same throughout the season. Subrata in the goal has been rock solid. Tokov at left back has been one of the star performers this season. In the midfield skipper Venkatesh has been ever-present. He is the heart and soul of the team, the engine room. Going forward Pierre, Arata and Edmar have formed a great partnership. When they are on song, it’s difficult to contain them. The return of centre back Chika Wali has helped the team immensely. Things can only get better as striker Jeje has been away all season on national duty. His return will only strengthen things up front.
Will just 11 games left, the expectations from this debut season have taken a big shift from survival to a top-half finish. The higher they finish the better it would be. Coach Derrick has indicated that he wants to stay at the club for a long tenure. But the same cannot be said about the others. The performances of Tokov, Chika, Pierre, Edmar have been attracting attention from all the clubs. The only way PFC can retain their services is with a top-half finish. I for one will not be betting against it as the club from Pune has lost only 3 out of the 16 matches so far. If they continue their form in the latter part of the season, maintaining their current position should not be tough.
The fan base has been increasing as a result of all the success. People have started taking PFC and their chances this year seriously. At the start of the season, all we could see were empty seats in the Balewadi stadium in Pune. Go for a match now, and it will be hard to find seats. Chants of ‘PFC…PFC…PFC’ have just got louder and louder.