Full name: Football Club of Pune City
Ground: Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex
Owner: Rajesh Wadhawan Group; Arjun Kapoor
Manager: Ranko Popovic
The story so far…
Pune City has had a more interesting history off the pitch than on it. Several Bollywood actors including big names like Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan have been involved in its ownership, before current co-owner Arjun Kapoor, and they even had ACF Fiorentina as their technical partners at the start.
On the field, however, finishing 6th, 7th and 6th again out of 8 teams tells its own story. That this has been the case despite them having some of the more recognisable foreign players to have played in the ISL, including David Trezeguet, Adrian Mutu, Didier Zokora, Momo Sissoko and Tuncay Sanli, points to a skewed recruitment strategy.
However, fans of the club can be hopeful of a change as the club’s intensive grassroots and youth development programmes start to bear fruit. The club has teams across all levels of professional football including a Women’s Team, which has been particularly successful because of its more holistic approach, winning three major tournaments this year. The U-19 side, developed over the years, also won the U-19 IFA Shield tournament this year, after training together over the years, and all grassroots level teams won at least a trophy.
The team’s colours are an interesting combination of old and new. The orange body and shorts are tributes to Maratha king and war hero Chhatrapati Shivaji – the most important historical figure from the region. The purple sleeves and trimmings are to signify their partnership with Fiorentina. The team crest also reflects this combination, with the Viola’s fleur de lis combined with Maratha fort, horses and flag.
The ‘Orange Army’ has been strongly cultivated by the club, both in terms of matchday experience and external benefits. The club is the only one to have its own official merchandise store and was the first to launch a loyalty rewards programme for fans as well.
Most of the ISL teams all come from different states or regions in the country, meaning that there aren’t any local derby rivalries in the division – except for Pune City’s rivalry with Mumbai City FC, which is also based in the same state of Maharashtra. The Maha Derby is, therefore, the first local derby in the league, though the Stallions will need to prove they are worthy challengers to their rivals this season after Uruguayan veteran Diego Forlan fired them to first place in the league standings last year (though they lost in the semi-finals of the knockouts).
Chances this season…
After problematic recruitment in previous seasons, Pune City have looked to change course this season, focusing instead on youth and players with experience in the division. Last season’s Golden Boot winner Marcelinho (10 goals, 5 assists) was procured from their opponents in their first game this season, Delhi Dynamos FC, as were midfielder Marcos Tebar and winger Kean Lewis.
The Dynamos had a good season last time around, finishing third, and the three players snaffled up by Pune this year were crucial to that, something Pune manager Ranko Popovic will be looking to recreate. Tebar, a Real Madrid youth product, will pull the strings in the middle, with Marcelinho up front and Lewis coming in from the wing to take aim at goal. Marcelinho will not be leading the line on his own, with Emiliano Alfaro brought in to assist him from NorthEast United FC, and Rafa Lopez and Damir Grgic have been brought in to shore up the defence.
Popovic, a solid enough central defender in his time, will look to instil some defensive discipline in a team that has shipped more than a goal a game in each season, and thereby provide a platform for his powerful attack to function. With the talent at this disposal, a top half finish should be doable for the Stallions, and if their trio of signings from Delhi can click, a place in the playoffs shouldn’t be out of reach.