It’s after a gap of two years that and Indian club has bagged a play-off slot for the AFC Champions League.
After having been given the green signal to play the Play-off, Chirag Tanna (Head of Operations, Pune FC) spoke at length to AIFF Media about Pune FC’s priorities and vision, importance of Club Licensing in India, the exuberance of youth in the 2013-14 edition of the Airtel I-League and much more.
What does the Play-off slot in the AFC Champions League mean to Pune FC? Did you expect it?
The AFC Champions League Play-off slot means a lot to everyone at the Club. When the Club was set up in 2007, playing in Asia was one of the goals which was set up by the Management. Indian Clubs have not received the Champions League Play-off spot for 2 years now, so we were not sure if we were going to get this. The All India Football Federation has done a tremendous job to improve our Member Association Ranking and this is one of the main reasons why we have got the Champions League Play-off spot.
What do you feel is its significance in Indian Club Football and Indian Football in general?
I-League is the platform for talented Players to showcase their skills and try and earn a spot in the National Team. We are ten Matches into the season and the gap between the Airtel I-League leaders and the Team that is placed tenth is just 7 points. Furthermore, the gap between the first five teams is just 3 points!
This just goes to show that the I-League is a lot closer and lot more competitive than people actually think. Further the average age of the Players has also come down significantly in the 2013-14 season with a lot of young Players doing very well for their clubs.
In the 2013-14 I-League, there are over one hundred and fifty U-23 players registered in the League which is the highest we have had in some time. However, there are certain areas where the progress has been a little slower than anticipated and I am sure that the I-League Clubs, the AIFF and IMG-Reliance will improve these areas in the following season. It is difficult to expect things to improve overnight, but it is heartening to see that we are moving in the right direction.
The AIFF has also submitted a bid for India to host the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017 and if are awarded the Event, it could be the start of a Football Revolution in India.
Sticking to the Licensing criteria landed you the slot in the Play-off. What’s the importance of Club Licensing in India?
The Club Licensing criteria makes the I-League Clubs think more than just the first Team. It compels Clubs to focus on areas like Youth Development, Fan Development, and a robust administrative set up. It also implements salary caps and infrastructure development, both of which will help make Indian Club Football financially sustainable in time to come.
The AIFF needs to hit a score of 600 points for an I-League Club to get direct entry into the group stages of AFC Champions League (not the Play-off spot). Our points have improved significantly in the last twelve months and in 2013-14 we have managed a score of 526. We are within touching distance of where we aim to be. With a sustained effort, I’m certain we will achieve this goal.
Can you take us to a trip down memory lane to the days when Pune FC first opened shop. What stayed the aim then?
When the Club was set up in 2007, the aim from the Management was to set up ourselves as a Professional Football Club. The Management had an option to start a Club in any part of the country, and although Pune never had a hosted or participated in any National Level Football Tournament, we felt that it was the right place for us to set up the Club.
Since Pune FC was established in 2007, Pune has hosted the Division 2, I-League, Federation Cup, International Friendlies and even the Olympic Qualifiers. The Pune District Football Association and the Western India Football Association have been very supportive of us and both play a vital role in the success we enjoy today.
Since our inception, our Board of Directors were clear that the focus of our Club would be on developing the right Footballing Infrastructure and with a special focus Youth Development. We have only managed to achieve a fraction of what we want to achieve as a Club and there is a lot of scope for improvement for us.
We’ve heard that community development stays high on Pune FC’s priority list. Can you educate us about it.
Community development is very high on our list of priorities. Pune has embraced the Club and without our fans, we feel that all our achievements would be hollow. Our Club has always enjoyed interacting with our fans and we do try and give back by having our Players and Coaches visit Schools, NGOs and Colleges in Pune.
Apart from this, we conduct inter-village, inter college and inter school Football in Pune. This season, we have started Soccer Schools so that aspiring footballers from Pune can develop and showcase their talent.
(Interview courtesy AIFF Media)