Pune City close ranks behind coach Ranko Popovic

CEO Gaurav Modwel provides an interpretation of Ranko Popovic’s “four jokers” comment at the match officials, leading to his suspension.

Marcelinho scored a hat-trick for FC Pune City against NorthEast United FC.   -  ISL / SPORTZPICS

FC Pune City closed ranks behind suspended chief coach Ranko Popovic, on and off the pitch in ISL season four. The Serbian watched from the stands at Balewadi stadium due to a four-match ban enforced by the AIFF disciplinary committee for demeaning match officials by referring to them as “four jokers” in a post-match media briefing. He is travelling with the squad for the first 2018 tie against Kerala Blasters FC at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, but will watch the match from the stands.

Read: Popovic handed four-match ban, fined five lakhs

He remains the only absentee chief coach among 10 ISL squads, interestingly at a time when the Pune franchise is one win away from first place in the league table. FCPC team management appealed against the suspension on grounds that his description of match officials in a previous game was done with positive intent, in contrast to the assumption that humiliation in public was the Serbian’s intent. Team captain Marcelino inspired teammates with a match-winning hat-trick in the first match without Popovic, winning 5-0 against NEUFC.

The Brazilian’s presence and goal-scoring form was his way of covering up for the chief coach’s absence. Team-mates responding on cue at Balewadi were Emiliano Alfaro, Mohammed Ashique, Jonathan Lucca, Adil Khan, Vishal Kaith and will be ready for an encore in Kochi, pitted against KBFC. The Serbian will be watching his players clad in purple-and-orange discharge assigned tasks with intensity. Gaurav Modwel, CEO, lend a twist to the ‘four jokers” reference by stating that Popovic viewed their role as assets rather than clowns.

Modwel explained: ‘He comes from Serbia and always thought the joker meant a trump card, in a pack of cards, till the news of suspension hit him. Language is used differently in other parts of the world and I hope the Appeals Committee understands our point of view.” He added: “He used the word “jokers” not meaning to call them “clowns”, but as trump cards in a pack of cards, who can make all the difference, in a game.” The gaffer is a term used frequently in parts of the world to describe a coach.

Marcelino’s hat-trick celebration against NEUFC included hugs with teammates, greetings from assistant coach Vladica Grujic in the dugout and a bow to team fans in the Balewadi stands. Standing among them was the Serbian with his family, come over for Christmas with a loved one. Popovic is coaching an ISL franchise for the first time in season four, after stints in Japan (FC Tokyo, Cerezo Osaka), Spain (Real Zaragoza), Thailand (Buitram United FC). He replaced Antonio Habas at Pune City.

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