Pune City hopeful of Popovic extending stay

The FC Pune City management is hopeful of chief coach Ranko Popovic extending his stay with the side after leading the club to its first semifinal appearance in the fourth Indian Super League season.

Ranko Popovic had a successful debut Indian Super League season when he lead FC Pune City to its first semifinal.   -  ISL Media

After a successful debut season in the Indian Super League, the FC Pune City management is hopeful of chief coach Ranko Popovic extending his stay at the club. Having guided the team to its first-ever semifinal in the fourth season of ISL, the vastly-experienced Serbian and players return to the training base in Pune after a short break, to prepare for the Super Cup.

Popovic is the fourth coach to be contracted by the franchise over four editions, after Italian Franco Colomba, Englishman David Platt and Spaniard Antonio Habas.

“I would love to have Ranko (Popovic). He is an amazing coach to have for any management. There was no disagreement on anything, a rare occurrence,” remarked franchise CEO, Gaurav Modwel.

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Popovic wasn't pleased with the quality of refereeing in the ISL and was suspended twice for his comments on their inability to understand the coach’s viewpoint on decisions.  The AIFF Disciplinary Committee’s second suspension and call for a hearing came when the Serbian plotted FCPC’s goalless draw against Bengaluru FC in the semifinal. He was reinstated in time for the next game, where he was seen prowling along the sidelines and howling in disgust at the referee’s disregard for the tackles on his players.

“Beyond his animated personality you see on the pitch, he is a very different as a human being away from the pitch. The coach is a thinking guy, has a world view similar to mine. He is an aggressive fighter, there is a huge soft side to him.”

Youth Development

The CEO is enthusiastic about the development of younger players under the Serbian, who's reputation grew during his stint in Japan’s J-League.

“He (Popovic) had gone into situations where he did not have the choice of players and had performed as a coach, for example in Japan and Thailand (Burinam United). He is not afraid to try out youth talent. He understands when to introduce a youngster, when to keep him out, when the player will break down and the solution to get him back on track. He keeps saying that a new player will be introduced in a tougher game, because all other 10 players are giving their 120 percent in the match and it is easier for the young face to perform,” he said.

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Striker Muhammed Ashique, midfielders Rohit Kumar and Issac Vanmalsawma, and defenders Sahil Panwar and Sarthak Golui were rookie players who gained confidence after they were handed ISL debuts with the first team.

'Our academy is grooming talent'

The idea of Popovic leaving FCPC for lucrative offers from other leagues is a possibility, however, this time the team management has clearly mapped out the road ahead.

“I am hopeful Ranko will continue, but if in case one or two seasons down the line we need to look for a new person, we will bring in a coach who believes in the philosophy of bringing in younger players. Our academy is grooming talent. We are rethinking the entire youth system. A Technical Director working closely with the youth team will be useful,” he said.

 

Four coaches in four seasons is a unique distinction for FCPC and each time a coach quit, the task of convincing the owners about spending more money on a new coach was handled by the CEO.

“Football is all about emotions. When you go to the owners, when taking a call on the coach and players, it is a tough process. Things don’t fall in place, especially when you miss the target by a tiny margin, that is how it happened for us in the ISL. We choked in the second season, in the third season major players got injured after getting involved in pre-season (Andre Bikey and the famous Eidur Johannsson). We hope to continue the winning formula with us from season four.”

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Modwel asserts that the team's success is achieved only when the coach and management think along similar lines. “Coming back to the possibility of him not being there next season, I would like to put out certain stats. Habas was a winning coach at ATK, did not do well with us. Jose Molina came in new (at ATK in place of Habas) and won the title.

“Chennaiyin FC became the champion one season under Marco Materazzi and the next season finished seventh under him. It is important a coach’s philosophy falls in line with the management thinking. It is not always certain that if you continue with the same coach, the team will keep performing, or a new coach may result in failure,” he said.

Player retention is key

Modwel is certain about the link between retaining core players and the team's performance. “Look at Bengaluru FC. Alberto Roca joining as chief coach after Ashley Westwood is a deviation in terms of playing philosophy yet the team did well with the same group of players. When the core remains the same from season to season, a certain kind of playing style can be established.”

Coaches had to adapt to a new rule in the 2018 season, which mandated that six Indians had to feature in the starting XI. Asked about team management reaction to the decision, Modwel pointed to the rise in foreigners’ quality.

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“The moment the ISL became longer, the marquee player rule went away we knew that with the lesser number of foreigners, players won’t be coming here for namesakes. These are real players who look at India as their future career. The quality is better despite reduced numbers to five per side. We have been discussing about moving towards the AFC norms (seven locals and four foreigners) and in talks with the league about the pros and cons. The only thing to ensure that the quality of the football does not fall.”

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