Bengaluru: FC Pune City’s Marcelinho arrived into the hotel lobby beaming — the affable 30-year-old radiating positivity as he seated himself for a chat with this newspaper. A quiet confidence pervaded through the team camp, spurred by what is unmistakably their best season yet and Marcelinho bubbled in typically unassuming fashion.
“I feel like it is a home. I am enjoying my time at the club by training, playing the games, enjoying the city every day... I try to enjoy the maximum I can,” said the Brazilian about his debut campaign with FC Pune City.
After an under-whelming league campaign in the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, there is a real feeling within the club they could qualify for the play-off stage of the marquee competition for the first time in their history.
“I am feeling happiness from the people because it’s the first time Pune are so close to the playoffs. I feel like making history here and that’s important to me, the club and the city because we’ve done serious work and are getting results,” said the ex-Delhi Dynamos forward.
The allure behind Pune’s success in the current campaign is the seamless integration of youth, countering the criticism faced by the ISL for being a retired footballer’s playground.
Six U-22 players have featured consistently this season as manager Ranko Popovich strives to earn plaudits for his belief in the system.
“I feel proud of our young players. They’re playing at a high level so that’s good for Pune, for their future and for India. I think two-three players will break into the national team quickly. You can see our first XI — Sahil (Panwar), Ashique (Kuruniyan), Isaac (Vanmalsawma) and Rohit (Kumar). These players are very strong and we need them,” quipped last season’s golden boot winner.
With eight goals and seven assists already, the creative heartbeat of Pune looks odds-on to at least equal his tally of 10 goals last season.
A team man par excellence, Marcelinho vowed to dissipate the composure necessary to prevail in crunch fixtures, especially to his younger compatriots who have never been in such situations.
“We need to talk with them so they can try and enjoy and not feel the pressure of a semi-final. I think they are enjoying the moment and will play very well without feeling the pressure.”...