Mumbai: After failing in the first two seasons of Indian Super League (ISL), FC Pune City were looking for a turnaround in the third season.
The management showed an aggressive approach towards the recruitment and Spanish coach Antonio Habas was brought in from Atletico de Kolkata to take care of the whole process. Habas had won the inaugural ISL with the Kolkata franchise in 2014.
Former Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen came in as their new marquee player. Ex-NorthEast United centre-back Andre Bikey was signed up. Arata Izumi and Augustin Fernandes followed Habas from Kolkata.
The franchise retained Arindam Bhattacharya, Lenny Rodrigues, Gaurimangi Singh and Dharmaraj Ravanan and star midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
All in all, they looked like a solid unit. However, as fate would have it, marquee players Gudjohnsen and Bikey were ruled out for the season due to injuries, and Lyngdoh was not able to join the squad till November due to his commitments with Bengaluru FC.
The absence of crucial players definitely dented their chances, but the club was ready to put on a brave face. Former Liverpool and Juventus midfielder Mohamed Sissoko was recruited as the marquee player to lead the charge.
Pune currently sit in the sixth position in the table and have failed to qualify for the semis.
Deccan Chronicle caught up with Pune players Anibal Zurdo and Eduardo Ferreira to find out what went wrong this season.
Anibal is Pune’s highest goal scorer with 5 goals this season. The striker has earlier played for Atletico Madrid’s youth team. Brazilian-born centre-back Eduardo plies his trade for Equatorial Guinea.
The players admit that injuries to Gudjohnsen and Bikey hampered the club's chances. But they feel the real problem is that the format is too short and players don't have the time to gel, play as a team and bring the necessary chemistry.
“It takes time to gel together and start performing as a team,” said Eduardo. “The same happened with us. But the squad is now well settled. If we had more matches, if the league was longer than three months, then we would perform very well."
Eduardo also pointed out that playing 14 matches in two months is a tough task and it can take a toll on the players.
“It's very difficult to play in ISL. The tournament is spread over just three months; teams have to travel quite a lot. We played a game in Chennai and then we had to travel to North East, so we spent quite a lot of time travelling. Players get tired,” added the centre-back.
The franchise made a poor start to the season and that made it very difficult for the team to recover. However, their performance got better as the season progressed.
“We made a slow start to the season, but we got better with time and we picked some vital points towards the end of the season. Unfortunately they were not enough,” said Anibal.
The striker is also the joint second highest goal scorer in the league, while the other strikers from Pune have struggled to find the back of the net. Anibal though, believes that it was just a case of misfortune.
“I am happy that I scored five goals for FC Pune City this season; I was able to convert the opportunities that came my way. The other strikers also worked very hard, it's just unfortunate that they weren't able to score more goals,” he added.
Both players, who have played in various leagues across the globe, are impressed by the league and the standard of Indian players.
“The league is in very good shape now. It will only get better. It has a mix of good Indian and overseas players.
“I am really impressed by the Indian players, especially by their attitude. They have got a lot of skills,” said Eduardo.
Pune may not have endured the best of the seasons, but the players are thoroughly impressed with the kind of support they have enjoyed. They want to pay back the fans with a solid performance in their last group match against Atletico de Kolkata, on Friday.
“Fans are commonly referred as the 12th man, and our 12th man followed us till Kerala. We have endured a tough time. Don’t lose faith in the team, we need the support,” signed-off Anibal.