Is Pune City the whipping boy of the Indian Super League? Their historical performance in the ISL seems to suggest so. Let me explain. Pune City came sixth in the first season, seventh in the second, and sixth again in the third. Those are seasons with eight teams remember. Technically, those positions can be said to be mid-table but they can also be said to be third last, second last, and third last. More than anything, though, it is the performance that concerns me.
Why has Pune City failed to perform over the past three years and why have they started this season again with such a poor performance? I feel I have an answer even though it is pure speculation and assumption. Consider that your disclaimer because this is my hunch, my gut feeling, and my deduction.
The Connection between the Senior Management and the Team on the Ground
If you talk to a business consultant (I’ve been one) or an efficiency expert (I wish to be one), he will tell you that every business has its identity. This identity is crucial not only for the customer but also for the employees. You see, this identity defines the company culture. This is common knowledge.
What a business consultant or expert will tell you is that a business’s identity and the company’s culture are closely tied to the senior management of the business. This means that Directors, CFOs, and CEOs are almost always responsible for what happens with the business.
If employees are always late to work, look at the arrival times of the senior management. If the employees put off crucial decisions, then check how the senior management behaves. I assure you, you’ll see direct mirroring between employees and their immediate reporting managers and indirect mirroring between the employees and the people really high up.
This is the problem with FC Pune City.
Evidence #1: Players without Passion
In the review of their last game, I pointed out how their players were lackadaisical on the pitch. You don’t expect professionals to be so languid in their first game of the season. You don’t expect it in any game of the season except maybe a dead rubber at the end of a season.
In the same review, I pointed out one scenario where Pune City players were unconcerned on the pitch – the Chhnagte goal after losing possession. Imagine you’re playing a game with your buddies (cawlony friends) in the little park in your locality. You lose the ball, what do you do. You bloody well rush forward to make up for your mistake. What does your team do? They rush to the ball first but after the play is over, they come over to you and berate you silly. Yes?
Did you see that happen in the Pune City game against Delhi Dynamos? Look up the highlights again. They’re on the Indian Super League website. You’ll see that none of the Pune City players is busting a gut to reach the ball. None of them even looks like he is striving and that is a sign of poor culture for me.
Let me add to the symptom mentioned above. If you will recall the goal scored by Marcos Tebar for Pune City FC, can you tell me which players were in the box? It was Tebar (duh) and the Brazilian substitute Diego Carlos. Now, remember that Marcelinho drove into the box from wide right midfield. There was enough time for Pune City to have more players in the box. And yet, they only had two players in the box. Where were the others? Why didn’t anyone else bust his gut to get into the box? There wasn’t anyone on the edge of the box either.
This screams to me of a team that lacks passion for the badge and the name. This also reeks of a team that doesn’t pay attention to the mentality of players it recruits. It is symptomatic of a team that doesn’t recruit well.
Evidence #2: Antonio Habas’s Exit
How often have you heard of a head coach being removed even before his team plays a game of a new season? I’ve never heard of it and I can’t imagine it happens often. In case, you don’t know. Pune City hired Antonio Habas, who is, by the way, the most successful coach in the Indian Super League, to lead their team last year. Before the new season even began, there was some disagreement with him. The result was a “mutual agreement” to part ways.
They probably gave Habas a golden handshake to keep him quiet and had him sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). So, we’ll never hear what happened behind the curtain unless someone else decides to come forward with a reveal-all. This, more than anything, suggests that something is wrong at the club’s board level.
First, you have a very successful manager failing to perform with your team. Then, you allow this manager to continue into a new season but let him go while your recruitment process is half-done? Did he choose the players you recruited? Were the players recruited by the new manager before he even joined the club? Or, did the club’s senior management recruit said players and the former coach didn’t agree with that kind of interference?
I suspect Habas didn’t tow the party line. He wanted to choose his squad while the senior management wanted something else. A guy with Habas’s track record cannot be bullied, so he had to be let go. Habas’s exit was far too murky to be ignored, especially since the team continues to underperform.
Evidence #3: Pune City Assistant Manager’s Comments about Sergio Lobera
Their head coach wasn’t the only one that Pune City had issues with. Apparently, there was another controversy. This one involved the assistant manager, Pradhyum Reddy. Reddy came out and criticised the FC Goa manager, Sergio Lobera, without any cause or reason.
Reddy was asked about the kind of opportunities available to Indian coaches in the ISL. It is a standard question with an even more standard answer: “It is good to be a part of the ISL. Indian coaches are accorded equal respect. The best is that you get to learn from global coaching stalwarts.”
But, Reddy is not a conventional (read wise) man. After being asked that question, he decided to bring Lobera and FC Goa into the picture (I don’t friggin’ know why! Jealousy maybe?). He criticised Lobera and said that his assistant manager is a better professional. He even went as far as to suggest that Lobera would be the one learning between those two. Mentally deranged, much, Mr. Reddy?
I’ll ask you, from this scenario, what do you think Mr. Reddy lacks? I’ll answer for you too: the mental acuity and composure to deal with a media interview. You can’t tell me that Habas and Popovich chose somebody so disconnected with reality. Again, what is the bottom line here? Mentality and recruitment.
Evidence #4: The Signing Of Adrian Mutu & His Subsequent Drunken Appearance
Let’s go back a couple of years. Do you remember who Pune City’s marquee player was in 2015? Adrian Mutu. Mutu is the poster child of everything that is wrong with modern day football. Why would an upcoming club want to sign such a blot on football? Why am I being so strongly against Mutu? You’re asking because you don’t know his history. Let me give you some bullet time action.
- Mutu was banned by the Romanian national team in 2011 because he was found drinking in a bar when his teammates were playing a friendly. Disrespect for teammates and country.
- In the same year, Mutu was banned for sharing an image of his national manager as Mr. Bean. Disrespect for a senior professional and citizen.
- In 2010, Mutu received a nine-month ban by his team in Italy, Fiorentina for failing a dope test. That means he had drugs in his system people and I’ll bet my kidney that it was cocaine. Disrespect for his self and authorities.
- Mutu was banned for seven months and fined for cocaine abuse by Chelsea in England in 2004. He was subsequently offloaded by the team. Disrespect for the game of football itself.
Mutu was the marquee player for FC Pune City in 2015 and he ended up playing 14 games, scoring four times in the process. Before he came to India, he supposedly showed up at the Indian Embassy in Bucharest, Romania “visibly drunk”. Now, if you were the owner of a football club, would you get such a high profile addict?
The Owners of FC Pune City: The Problem or the Solution?
FC Pune City was conceived by Salman Khan and the Wadhawan Group when they won the bid for the city’s franchise. However, Khan didn’t stick and decided to exit the project leaving only the Wadhawan Group in the lead. Later on, Hrithik Roshan came on board as the co-owner. Even Arjun Kapoor became a co-owner before the current season began.
My understanding, call it an assumption if you will, is that the purpose of FC Pune City is to bring the Wadhawan Group positive publicity. It is an exercise in branding and marketing. There could even be some Corporate Social Responsibility angle involved somewhere. Finally, it must help with the taxes to have a club as one of your assets (ask a CA how).
Therein lies the problem. The purpose of Pune City is NOT football. It is a vehicle for something else entirely. Whether it is hubris or simple mismanagement is beyond me. I have a feeling it is the former fuelling the latter. It could just be an oversight that is caused by having too many irons in the fire at the same time (WG also owns Wayamba United cricket club in Sri Lanka) but I sincerely doubt it.
Whether the senior management of FC Pune City are the problem or whether they want to be the solution is something that only they can know. What I know is that FC Pune City’s performances are a mockery of what its players are really capable of.
This city deserves better. The fans deserve better. I count myself as one (I’m a big fan of the city and of football, so you know twisted logic…).
Mr. Modwel, Wadhawan Group, Hrithik Roshan, Arjun Kapoor, are you people listening?
Note: Since you read this post, then I want to know what you think. Please drop me a comment. Tell me I’m right (preferably), tell me I’m wrong, or even tell me that I’m Khichdi brain (My brain may take national significance then). I’ll take it all in and maybe become a better writer and analyst.