After a good laugh at a few of my players, a random cup we exited from and another holiday, it’s time to get back to business in Pune. Up next is the Federation Cup and a chance to win Pune’s first ever trophy…
I’ve learned many lessons in India in my three or four months in the country already. The rules of cricket; never try and be friends with anyone you transfer list (Ramu’s bouncers seemed a bit mean) and that you should really know your squad. Turns out I had a bunch of loanees returning from the other Indian league. A couple of them were OK players so I’m hardly complaining. I did release a man called Raju Yumnam who was, unsurprisingly, not very good.
All eyes were on the Federation Cup which was up next. All the boys were back from their second holiday and I’m almost certain Bruce Djite was still a little drunk. Anyway, it turns out that the entire tournament is played over about two weeks so we had to cram four group games into six or seven days. We were also facing the Indian champions East Bengal which was a bit scary.
Up first though was a derby game against Mumbai FC. I was excited, our first chance to have our full squad take on a league rival. In fact, I was right to be excited as Bruce went and scored two on his competitive debut and we won 2-0. What a start. He might not be Djite after all (if you don’t get it, read the last part).
The next game was against Mohun Bagan who had already lost once and it proved to the coming out party for centre Zohmingliana Ralte. He was everywhere, breaking up attacks, spraying forty yards passes from midfield and even heading clear a corner, dribbling half the length of the field and then pinging a perfect cross for Anthony D’Souza to score. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen and he was anointed Beckenbauer at half time. Mostly performance based, partly because I can’t pronounce his name. However, we couldn’t hold on and Jeje scored for Bagan to leave me annoyed with a 1-1 and a big game against the champs.
East Bengal were the second scariest team in the competition after Bengaluru in the other group (who were tearing teams apart). Turns out, though, that they’re not actually that scary to play. Their narrow formation was demolished by my tactical genius. If you can count play it wide all the time as tactical genius. Still, we played them off the park and 3-1 flattered them. The Pereira boys – midfielder Stanley and left back Agnelo – scored as did Bruce and we were practically through to the semis.
It meant that our final group match against Royal Wahingdoh was a chance for squad players to get a chance. Syed Shoaib Ahmed took his chance and scored a brace but we through it away and drew 2-2 to finish top of the group. Quick side note – Ahmed was voted India’s Emerging Player of the Year for 2015 after his amazing 1 goal in 1 game year. Indian football is weird.
We were in the semi final of the cup and thankfully, because we finished top of the group, we didn’t have to face Bengaluru. Instead we faced Lajong who I thought might end up surprising us and winning. Instead, we thrashed them 3-0 with Bruce getting another brace and centre back Anas Edatha… Edeto… Edathodika getting in on the act too. It was off to the final for Pune FC.
It would be East Bengal in our way and I wasn’t even scared by them. In fact, I would have been furious if we hadn’t won. With my tactical genius again set up we struggled to break them down and had a couple of scares before wise, old Japanese midfielder Ryuji Sueoka opened the scoring. He was immediately hauled off for even older Italian del Piero who then promptly scored the second and we won the Federation Cup!
So, five months into my managerial journey and I had already etched my name into history. Admittedly, it was only Pune FC’s history but it was a start. Pune’s first silverware led by an idiot with no coaching badges training the legendary Alessandro del Piero to be a central midfielder. What a story! I can’t wait for some blog with 200 followers on Twitter to direct message me in five years looking for the inside scoop.
This management lark is easy ain’t it?