FC Pune City’s La Masia clan eyeing ISL glory

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FC Pune City is a team on a mission to win the third edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). After roping in manager Antonio Habas, who won the inaugural season with Atletico de Kolkata, the Hrithik Roshan co-owned club brought former Barcelona midfielders Jesus Tato and Pitu to bolster the side, which already has exciting Indian midfielders such as Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Lenny Rodrigues in its ranks.

Sportstar caught up with the Spaniards Tato and Pitu for a quick chat on what brought them to the Indian Super League and what their impression of Indian football has been so far.

Excerpts:

You played at the highest level in the Spanish La Liga which is perhaps the best football league in the world today. What was the major motive behind this move to the Indian Super League? What is so attractive about Indian football?

Tato: ISL is one of the most well known leagues in the world today; players around the world know about it. It is an opportunity to play in a different country with different kinds of players. Bruno (former Sevilla midfielder who now plays for FC Pune City after stints with Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United) was the one who recommended me to come in for it. I knew about the league but after the recommendations I was sure that I was doing the right thing.

Pitu: ISL is known to most footballers in the world and there are players who have recommended us to play for this league. It’s been three years since its inception and the league has done good for the sport in this country and the league is also recognised worldwide. I wanted to accept this challenge and play here.

Did you speak to manager Antonio Habas prior to the move? Did he give any idea on which position he will want you to play?

T: Yes, I did. Habas gave me an idea on what the league will be about and what he expects from me during the season. He was very clear about me and he is planning on using me in attacking and midfield, so we are clear on what our roles are going to be.

P: He was precise and clear about my role and explained to me how I will be trained for the season.

How do you think Eidur Gudjohnsen’s injury and the subsequent departure will affect the team? Where you looking to playing alongside him?

T: Eidur’s injury is a bad thing for us, but we are professionals, we have to move on with the game and the season. I wish Eidur good luck for his future. Yes, we all will miss him during the season. He was a fantastic team-mate.

P: His sudden news was a shock for us, but football is an unpredictable game and we have to move on. I was looking forward to playing with him but I wish him the best for the future.

You are a product of Barcelona’s academy ‘La Masia’. Can you share the experiences you had learning from the best? What is it that makes La Masia and the Barcelona football philosophy so unique?

T: We are trained hard during the initial stages in the academy. The trainers make sure that you are clear about your aim. The philosophy is simply to create the best players in the world.

P: We are trained under some of the best coaches in the world, we are put in situations where we have to play it smart during practice sessions too. I think it’s not about philosophy in case of players. It is about the approach and the humbleness of the learner. If the player wants to be the best, he can learn a lot from small sessions too.

Tell us more about your time with FC Pune City so far. We have heard that manager Habas is a task-master. Did you get to find that out during the pre-season training and matches?

T: The time here has been fantastic. Coach Habas is clear about his vision for the team. He makes sure that everyone in the squad knows their roles and responsibilities. Playing with Indian players made me understand that the level of football in the country is higher than I thought. The way we all play as a team is really good, the coach’s understanding of the game is really impressive.

P: I am happy that I am playing with FC Pune City. We aren’t just a group of professional players but also brothers — we are a family. Coach Habas helped us all to get along well with each other and it has been a great experience. Talking to each other, helping each other during the training sessions and being with the team through and through is really turning out to be a great thing. Our coach won ISL title in his debut season so he knows about the players and the pitches in India better than most others. He has trained us accordingly and makes sure that there is not a single situation for which we aren’t prepared for.

FC Pune City has some exciting Indian footballers such as Eugeneson Lyngdoh (currently away on duty with Bengaluru FC), Lenny Rodrigues and Sanju Pradhan in its ranks. Have you been able to judge them? What do you think is their strength and what do you think is lacking in these local players?

P: As we said, they are all brothers. We do not judge each other, we just want to play together to ensure we win. They are fast and their game is very matured. They know their responsibilities and at the same time they are humble enough to learn new things. We believe they don’t lag behind or have any weakness in football.

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