FC Pune City head coach Popovic catches ISL referees offside with ‘ego decisions’
Speaking to Pranav Shahaney, Popovic, or Pop as he is being fondly referred to in the stands and the dressing room offers an insight into his experience with the Maratha Stallions, the impact of Pune on him.Updated: Mar 05, 2018 14:56 IST
FC Pune City’s head coach Ranko Popovic is in danger of becoming a sporting icon in the city. His team is now in the ISL semi-finals and by all accounts, at least on cue to make the finals. When Popovic first spoke to HT as he was announced as head coach, he was bullish. Now we know why. Speaking to Pranav Shahaney, Popovic, or Pop as he is being fondly referred to in the stands and the dressing room offers an insight into his experience with the Maratha Stallions, the impact of Pune on him. Then, of course, there is that prestigious ISL trophy.
If you had the tools and authority at your disposal, what changes would you make to the league to make it a better one?
Many aspects are really wonderful about the league. One crucial thing that can be done is to make the referees better. I agree they do not have as much experience as the ones overseas, but often it disrupts the game and sometimes changes the outcome of the match. Sometimes, it seems like they’re making decisions based on their ego, which I feel is a wrong thing. Another aspect is the draft. Due to the player selection process, very few of them are at the same club two seasons in a row, which is not the way to go about things as the players don’t have enough time be loyal to a club and thus will not play with the same level of passion.
Congratulations on guiding FCPC to the semi-finals. How has the journey been for you so far?
Thank you very much. I am proud to be a part of such a phenomenal setup here at FC Pune City. It is a proud moment, of course, because as a team we have been in this since the start. We have all worked towards our primary goal and I am extremely delighted by the response of the players. We have a perfect blend of experienced and young players and they have integrated perfectly to churn out positive results for us.
What has been your experience living and coaching in the city of Pune?
The ambience we have on matchdays is fantastic. We have so many people, from youngsters to senior citizens that have come to watch us play, and I’m extremely grateful for this. Everyone involved with the club, be it the fans, players or the support staff, have given their heart and emotion to the team, and you can see how it has worked out. I am happy that the city of Pune can now rejoice at making it into the semi-finals, but we still have our feet firmly struck on the ground, waiting for our opponents in the next round. Yes, we do not generate the numbers as some of the other clubs, but if you see our supporters’ faces, you can see a certain level of intensity, dedication and passion that you will not find elsewhere. Pune is a relatively new football city, so I believe in four years, we have done a great job at attracting the supporters.
Given your experience of having coached in several other leagues - European and Asian - how would you rate the quality of football in the ISL?
I believe the condition of the league is fantastic. It is at a very high level. Regarding the players, it is not fair to compare them to the ones in the league overseas as those competitions have been on since hundreds of years, while we’re here in only our fourth season. But, we have an advantage in terms of growth and I feel that we don’t need the same amount of time as the big European leagues needed to become household names. The ISL has certainly helped Indian players become better and I’m sure that within a few years, India will be competing on the world stage against some of the biggest names the game has on offer.
Considered one of the strongest attacking teams in the division, your side always appears to have goals in them. Do you feel the players have matched your levels of expectation throughout the season?
Let me be completely honest with you. After losing our first game of the season at home to Delhi, I wasn’t overly optimistic about our chances in the league, particularly due to the manner of our defeat and the number of mistakes we made. However, we didn’t let this initial setback affect us and began training harder which in turn saw us pick up crucial wins on the road. We then reached a certain point that even in games we weren’t picking up maximum points, I felt we deserved to win as we have been the better team in the majority of our games. Yes, a few games the result was justified, but we could have achieved more. We’ve hopefully learnt from all our mistakes as now a difficult phase is upon us where there’s no room for error.
Will your preparations for the semis change now that there is no margin for error?
I think we’ll have to change something if we weren’t doing well, but I believe that the players are giving it their best and now they have to give that little bit more. They’ve been training with a professional attitude since day one, which is why we are where we are on the table. I’ll be lying if I say the coming games are going to be easy. They won’t. Which is why I’m telling you that we will try to win them and give it our all.
How is the mood inside the dressing room? Are the players confident of winning the ISL?
Yes, the boys are confident. However, I don’t want them to relax thinking the hard work is done. No, the games ahead are going to be tougher than the previous ones. It is important to enjoy the moment, but is also equally key not to lose focus as one blip in concentration can have catastrophic effects.