FC Pune City CEO says Villarreal-bound Kuruniyan had ISL offers

Trained by Spanish head coach Roger Lamesa at the Pune-based FCPC academy and identified as the best from his batch, the India U-19 teenager’s adaptability in Spain will be used to benchmark future academy trainees for placement with clubs there.

Mohd Ashique Kuruniyan (left) with FCPC owner Hritik Roshan (right) and CEO Gaurav Modwel.   -  Special Arrangement

Far away from the glitter and goals of the Indian Super League (ISL), a lanky Indian teenager from FC Pune City (FCPC) academy, Mohd Ashique Kuruniyan, has left for Spain where he will take the next steps in football education at Villarreal CF ‘C’ squad.

Trained by Spanish head coach Roger Lamesa at the Pune-based FCPC academy and identified as the best from his batch, the India U-19 teenager’s adaptability in Spain will be used to benchmark future academy trainees for placement with clubs there, said Pune’s CEO Gaurav Modwel, who was explaining the long-term view behind the move to loan the young winger to a team in Spain.

Excerpts from interview with Gaurav Modwel:

Question: India international and FC Goa winger Mandar Rao Desai went to Villarreal club. Now India U-19 player Mohammed Ashique is being sent on loan there. What is so attractive about Spain?

Answer: Last year we had sent Mandar Desai (FC Goa forward in ISL) to Villarreal on a 15-day trial, to benchmark Indian footballers compared to La Liga club standards. He was there for a very short stint. We wanted to send a younger player from the academy and see where he fits in, how he adapts to the system there.

Can you explain the anticipated benefits from sending Ashique, who graduated from Pune City academy, to Spain?

For us, the excitement is to see how he is copes with the challenges (language, new place)... It is an exploratory opportunity, whether he can make any impact in the ‘C’ team. If he is able to adjust in a matter of two-three months, many opportunities will open up for other academy kids.

We can then calibrate which type of players can go and the type of Spanish clubs they can be sent to. Ashique is a capable guy. He may fit into Villarreal ‘C’, it is possible he may go to a club little lower, sent on loan for a year and comes back to Villarreal. Or he goes move up from Villarreal ‘C’ to ‘B’.

Mandar played under Zico for FC Goa before and after the Villarreal stint. What was the reasoning behind sending him, instead of one of Pune City players?

This is where ‘Indian On Track’ comes in, the Arsenal Soccer School. It is one of our set-ups. Mandar selection was orchestrated by them, looking at all ISL clubs independently. I have a good relationship with La Liga, we wanted to see if a top Indian player could fit in, so irrespective of whether the chosen player is from Pune City or not, it was an experience kind of a trip. Mandar has signed up for FC Goa and was supposed to come back and continue playing for them.

Did Villarreal choose Ashique or did the academy select him. What was the procedure?

Pune City academy has many Spanish coaches whose recommendation was considered. We then sent his videos. Among the players just graduating from the academy, he is clearly the best. Ashique had a few ISL offers but decided to stay on and go in for more development work at this stage.

Performing in the ISL can also kick-start a teenager’s career who has just finished the academy training. Your thoughts?

If he is getting to play every ISL game, then the experience is great for anyone. If he doesn’t, then match days are so close, training days are few and the focus is on those in the playing XI, or top 15. Suppose a youngster like him is not able to get into the top 15, for reasons beyond his control, three months of non-developmental practice can be disastrous.

Kids who are 19-21 years, cannot be seduced by the commercial offers. They have to finish their football studies. In academics, you need to complete graduation, though by 12th you may be brilliant, a genius. It does not mean you start working; the developmental work needs to be completed till graduation. I believed it was important for Ashique to continue his process and go on to play for India.

Where does Ashique’s career go from here?

He is finished with the academy and is now going to Villarreal. We are looking at the possibility of players from his batch (1998-born) being converted into an I-League Second Division team next season. Talks are on with the AIFF for approval. We will add a few players, a couple of foreigners and this batch can be together.

Suppose he is loaned to another club by Villarreal CF, does Pune City come into the picture?

The loan has to be through Pune City. He is going on loan to Villarreal, which will remain as the co-ordinating body. Right now the loan is not registered, the transfer window opens in December and then he gets registered with Villarreal CF. For some reason, if he does not get into Villarreal or they feel he needs more time, then we will see where we can fit him.

Will FC Pune City gain financial benefit from Ashique loan deal to a Spanish club?

He is too young in Europe to be paid handsomely. If he gets a decent contract, he can start taking care of himself there. Right now, we are investing in him and he is contracted with us for five years. Ashique re-signed a contract with us.

Does the FCPC tie-up with Villarreal now, extend to other Spanish clubs?

We run the La Liga India office now. They came here and inspected our facilities. We found Villarreal systems, the methodology to be amazing. They took time, 16-17 years to develop a method and are reaping the benefits. Spain U-15, U-17, U-19 sides have numerous Villarreal players. Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast-born defender) went from Villarreal to Manchester United.

Is Antonio Habas, the Pune City head coach, consulted about the academy and training?

The ISL schedule is so tight, it is difficult for Antonio to sit down and do sessions with the academy lads. Our academy head coach this year, Roger Lamasa from Spain, is a UEFA Pro Licence holder. He deals with the academy team. For example, the Pune City goalkeeper coach (Spaniard Angel Pimdado) is planning a few sessions at the academy. The U-18 academy lads played a pre-season game against the FCPC team. Ashique played for the academy side, the only over-18 player chosen. The seniors won, the juniors played their hearts out.

FACTFILE

Name: Mohd Ashique Kuruniyan.

Position: Winger.

From: Malapuram, Kerala.

Teams played for: Pune FC (I-League U-19 2014-15), India U-19 (AFC Championship 2015).

Graduated from: FC Pune City academy.

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