"If they want, I'll be close to continuing next season" - RoundGlass Punjab FC boss Staikos Vergetis on his future, ISL promotion, & I-League triumph

RoundGlass Punjab FC won the I-League 2022-23 title.
RoundGlass Punjab FC won the I-League 2022-23 title. (Image Courtesy: RPFC Media)

Indian football reeks of pandemonium to its very core. Hence, adulation is always in order whenever any club manages to cut through the chaos and play a brand of football that instills a sense of tranquility.

RoundGlass Punjab FC (RPFC), marshaled on by the towering enigma of Staikos Vergetis, actualized that recherche feat.

The Warriors, as they are nicknamed, conquered the 2022-23 I-League title in the penultimate matchweek of the season with a swashbuckling 4-0 victory against Rajasthan United FC.

Engraving their moniker in the history books, RoundGlass Punjab also became the first I-League club to get promoted to the Indian Super League.

Despite some sporadic blips, the Punjab-based club made a marauding run to the title, winning 16 matches, drawing four times, and losing just twice.

Their title rivals Sreenidi Deccan FC were in the lead at one point in the second half of the season, but a seven-game winning streak from RPFC absolutely blew the opposition away.

Vergetis, who traveled to India in August last year from the Greek shores of the Aegean, assembled and nurtured a unit that was relentless in its approach.

Whether on the ball or off it, RoundGlass always had their tails up and now they'll have the opportunity to flaunt their footballing extravaganza on the central stage in India.

Sportskeeda caught up with Staikos Vergetis for an exclusive interview, where the Greek tactician discussed the I-League 2022-23 campaign, the emotions of victory, and his plans for the future in detail.

Here are excerpts from Sportskeeda's interview with the RoundGlass Punjab FC mastermind:

Question: First, coach, congratulations on winning the I-League and securing promotion to the ISL. If you could sum up what this achievement and all the emotions surrounding it mean to you?

Staikos Vergetis: Let's start from the beginning. I came with my two co-workers, the members of the technical staff, strength, and conditioning coach Nikolaos Tsagkatakis and assistant coach Dimitrios Kakkos.

We came to a country about which we didn't know a lot. We didn't know the people that we'll meet. But we put our personality, our character, and our knowledge of football together.

Every day we had a team of players and staff who supported us. They made our lives very easy. We enjoyed every day in the training center. All the players and staff were perfect professionals and helped each other out. We had a nice environment and a very good mood in the dressing room. This helped us face the bad moments.

In the end [after securing the I-League title], the happiness that you could see on the faces of the players and the technical staff. Everybody was embracing each other and it felt like a family.

Q: You were appointed as the head coach of RG Punjab FC in the summer of 2022. It’s been a little over half a year and this already seems to be a captivating journey with the club winning the I-League title. During this time, how has your interaction with the management been?

Vergetis: The fact that Technical Director Nikolaos Topoliatis is Greek, we speak the same language, and we have the same view of football helped.

I met him in Greece for the first time, I didn't know him before. He analyzed the RoundGlass Punjab project and whatever he told me on the first date was exactly what I saw when I came here.

With this project, the club has focused on the present and the future, which is why people here are taking care of the academy.

We want the people of Punjab to have a connection with the team. That's why we want to work with all the youngsters from the state so one day the club can have as many players as possible from here.

Q: Coach, the last time we talked was before the start of the season. You then stated that your target was the I-League title. You didn’t want to play down your chances. Were you always confident in the side you assembled to go and get the job done?

Vergetis: When you start the season, every club has its own targets. For one club it's the title, for another club it might be continental qualification, for one it just might be avoiding relegation. This doesn't mean you always succeed on target.

After setting down your goal, you find out the ways you can accomplish it. My philosophy and mentality were to look at every upcoming match as the last game we played like there's no other game in the future.

Sometimes in press conferences, I was listening to questions about the next games, and I was giving the same answer, "For me, only the upcoming match matters". This is how I feel and I want everyone at the club to live by it.

Q: Last season, RoundGlass finished fifth in the Championship Round. So coming into this season, what were some of the tactical tweaks or measures that you opted for that pushed the club to this level?

Vergetis: I saw a lot of games from the previous season, mostly to evaluate the players - which players can stay and which we don't need.

After that, every coach puts in their own philosophy and model of the game in all phases. This is what I did with my co-workers and technical staff to instill our philosophy into the players.

The players understood very easily and very quickly how we wanted the team to play. We tried some formations and the players adapted to them. The video sessions helped us too apart from the training.

Q: At least for me, I think I can divide the RG Punjab season into two parts. The first part was before the reverse fixture against Sreenidi, where you lost 4-0 and the second part was after that match, where you’ve been unbeaten since then. What changed after the game and how did you approach that loss?

Vergetis: No, no, it did not change anything special. The team had a very good reaction to the bad moments. We had a defeat against TRAU FC in the first round, but then we went to Kashmir and defeated Real Kashmir, who were the table toppers then, at home.

We lost to Sreenidi and after that, we went to Mohammedan SC's home and defeated them 0-4. But then we drew two games against Kenkre FC and Sudeva FC, two matches where everyone expected the team to get good results. Again, the team had a very good reaction and won against Gokulam Kerala, a very good team.

We didn't do anything special, we just tried to keep the team in balance. So this balance didn't bring disaster after losing one game or euphoria after winning one game. We had balance in the emotions as well.

Q: Previously, you had mentioned that you were eager to make the team more capable in possession. Now, as the season comes to a close, Punjab have played the most passes this season, close to 2,000 more than the next-best team, and has kept the fourth-highest possession. How happy are you with the progression of the players in terms of how they adapted to your style of play?

Vergetis: Looking back at the games, one thing that happened so often was that our team was losing control against the same opponent, with the same players during a certain period of the match.

For example, it could be from minute 60 to 75, we were experiencing a bad period. In another game, it could be in the first half. This is something I did not like about our team. We had minutes where we struggled.

But for the majority of the game, we were better than our opponents and controlled the proceedings. This was positive.

I haven't seen the statistics mentioned, but the point is not only to have possession, it's about having quality possession or offensive possession. You need a lot of contexts to look into that.

Q: If you could talk about the impact Luka Majcen and Juan Mera have had on this side? Luka, we know, has always been a goalscoring machine but for Juan, this was his best-ever goal-scoring season in India.

Vergetis: First, Luka Majcen is a player who does the job exactly as he is asked to. He makes everything possible as his position is needed. He presses the defenders, receives many balls with his back to support his teammates, and is always ready inside the area to score.

Juan Mera came in late in the pre-season and because of his delay when he joined the team, Juan wasn't at the level he has been since January.

He lost the months of November and December and should've come in earlier to be in better condition. But in the second half, when he was in a better condition, he showed everybody what he could do.

Q: Given this was your first season in Indian football, what was your assessment of the Indian players in your squad on a tactical and technical level? Can you name a few players that stood out to you?

Vergetis: When I came in and started training, the first area I noticed that needed a lot of improvement was the fast decision-making and execution of it.

The players delayed a lot of what they wanted to do with the ball. Most times either the decision or the execution of it wasn't correct. This is something we have to improve to be faster.

After weeks of training and playing in friendly matches, the team started to come to a very good level. I believe after Christmas our players have improved a lot.

From the Indian players, I saw a great improvement in all areas from Valpuia, our stopper. (Khaimin) Lhungdim and (Mohammed) Salah had excellent championships as well. I think from our defenders we received a lot of help.

For the midfielders, Freddy (Lallawmawma) was one of the biggest surprises for me. (Ajay) Chhetri was a very good player and helped a lot defensively and during the possession of the ball. Brandon (Vanlalremdika) ran a lot and helped in connecting the midfield and offensive lines. He runs more than 12 kilometers every game.

Coming to our wingers, we had Pranjal (Bhumij) with a lot of speed. Krishnananda (Singh Khundongbam) also had speed and good ability on the ball. I believe we had players at a good level and we have also improved them. I am very happy for them.

Behind them are upcoming players like Maheson (Singh), (Manglenthang) Kipgen, and (Tekcham) Abhishek Singh, young boys who are very talented and will take over Indian football in the coming years.

Q: Coach, the Super Cup is just around the corner and RG Punjab has been drawn into the same group as Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC. How are you looking forward to that challenge?

Vergetis: This is a very good opportunity for us to measure our level. How close or far are we with teams from the ISL? We had our first exposure during the friendlies but this will be different.

I believe that this is a challenge for us and we are looking forward to it. We will prepare for these games as we did for the I-League matches. Then we will see where we are.

Q: Coach, you mentioned measuring your abilities against top-tier teams. So I wanted to ask whether you've been able to follow the Indian Super League this season and if you have, whether you think these teams stand in terms of quality?

Vergetis: To be honest, I have seen very few ISL games because I was mostly watching I-League matches, analyzing our opponents. But from what I've seen, there's certainly a difference in the level. Not great, but there's definitely a difference.

Q: Finally coach, you’ve led RG Punjab to the I-League title now and also into the ISL. Have you had a conversation with the management regarding the opportunity to manage this team in the ISL next season?

Vergetis: We haven't yet had any conversations about next season because it's just been a few days since we got promoted. I believe that next week we'll start the conversation about this.

Q: But coach, personally, would you be interested in extending your journey with the club?

Vergetis: Look, football is not just about money. The people at RoundGlass Punjab were the first to give me the opportunity to come and work in this country.

Second, they supported me throughout the season in whatever way I wanted. These are two major things for me. If they want, I'll be close to continuing in the next season as well.

I put this down to the confidence they showed in me and the support they gave me. I appreciate this a lot.

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