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FC Pune City ready to rage war with new faces

FC Pune City stars Lalchhuanmawia Fanai and Isaac Vanmalsawma in buoyant mood ahead of their first match on November 22 in ISL Season 4.

pune Updated: Nov 20, 2017 15:06 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
fc pune city,football,isl
FC Pune City players during a practise session in Pune. With followers now familiar with majority of big names participating in the tournament, the new season could well go on to be the most watched in the history of the Indian Super League.(HT Photo)

It’s that time of the year when Indian football is hogging the back pages. After three glorious seasons of blistering football, the Indian Super League (ISL) is back in full swing for its fourth and arguably biggest edition.

With followers now familiar with the majority of big names participating in the tournament, the new season could well go on to be the most watched in the history of the ISL.

Pune’s ISL franchise – FC Pune City – haven’t enjoyed the best of fortunes in the tournament for the past three seasons, but with a new manager and a revamped squad, the Maratha Stallions are geared up to spring about surprises en route to winning something for the local fans who have come out to cheer them in numbers since their inception in 2014.

The club hierarchy has taken the bold step of hiring someone with zero ISL experience as Serbian gaffer Ranko Popovic is set to manage his first game in India when Pune square off against the Delhi Dynamos on November 22.

They have also roped in key international players Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro. The two have been offensive mainstays in the ISL, and have enjoyed fascinating stints with Delhi Dynamos and North East United FC respectively.

While they may have attractive international names, the Indian contingent in the team appears to be strong as well. Of them, two superstars Lalchhuanmawia Fanai and Isaac Vanmalsawma spared time from their tight training schedule to speak exclusively to Hindustan Times.

When quizzed about the prospect of linking up with a number of marquee names at Pune, a very modest Fanai exclaimed his delight at joining forces with the Maharashtra outfit.

“It is my first season with FC Pune City and I’m already feeling part of this family. It is amazing to be involved with the caliber of players that the team possesses and I’m already enjoying my stay here. I am eagerly awaiting the 22nd and looking to start our campaign on a winning note.”

Like a number of wingers, Fanai eventually was moved to play as a full-back as his then coach Jagir Singh brought the best out of him by deploying him as a left-back.

While Fanai is accustomed to playing as a defender, he would not mind putting in a shift in the offensive third should Popovic ask him to in the upcoming season.

“I might be a left-back by trade, but in my primitive years, I played on the left flank. Thanks to Jagir Singh, who saw the potential in me to play as a full-back, and since then I haven’t looked back and made the position my own.”

The Indian international comes to Pune with bags of experience. In fact, he has already represented two other ISL clubs in Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC and is relishing going back to his former home stadiums and winning the game for his new side FC Pune City.

Speaking about the prospect of taking on his former sides, Fanai said: “When I was at Bengaluru and Mumbai, I gave my hundred percent for them and I aim to do the same at Pune.

“Yes, I want to go back and show them the player I’ve become, but my focus solely lies with FCPC, and I aim to do well with them this season.”

Following Fanai’s exuberant and enriching interaction, Isaac Vanmalsawma joined in to speak about his journey, and how the ISL was like a dream come true for him.

Unlike his teammate, Isaac is still to make his full debut for the national side. He has, however, caught the eye of Indian head coach Stephen Constantine, who invited the player to the national camp of the Asian Cup Qualifiers.

Narrating his delight at being involved with an ISL club, Isaac stated: “As it is my first season in the competition, everything that comes will be a new challenge for me. I am excited to face these challenges and hopefully cement my spot as a regular for FC Pune City.”

The ISL organisers decided to expand the competition to make it a 10-team affair and included Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC to the eight existing teams.

Thus, it is needless to say that with two more teams added to the fray, the competition has become a lot more difficult to win and a lot more challenging for the players to main their levels of fitness until the month of March.

But this added dimension to the league doesn’t seem to face Isaac as he is quite content with his teammates and believes in their abilities along with his own, to ruffle a few feathers in season four.

“We have some quality players that are right up there with the league’s elite. A number of talented international players along with some fascinating Indian flair, we seem to have the right flavour going into the new season. Pune is undoubtedly the best club I have been to date as the setup here is extremely professional and the club treats you like family. It is exciting.”

While he has hit the highs at a very tender age of 21, he hasn’t forgotten his roots and humble beginnings. As a part of his closing note, Isaac expressed heartfelt gratitude to his family and the coaches that helped him become the player he is today.

“My family supported my dream of becoming a footballer and enrolled me in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Elite Academy where a number of professional coaches helped me work on my game.

“They helped me become a versatile player and now I can play in attacking as well defensive midfield positions, and I’m extremely excited to take centre stage when we commence our campaign.”

The Maratha Stallions’ season 4 journey commences at the Balewadi Sports Complex on Wednesday when they take on capital outfit Delhi Dynamos.

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 15:04 IST