PUNE: When FC Pune City appointed Ranko Popovic as the head coach of the team back in September 2017, he came with a solid resume and a reputation of bleeding youngsters into the first team.
As the season four of Indian Super League (ISL) approaches the business end, the Serbian coach has lived up to his billing of giving youngsters a chance to prove their worth.
FC Pune City has their own ‘Class of 2017’ - as defender Sahil Panwar and midfielders Ashique Kuruniyan have impressed with their commanding performances as the Stallions are on the cusp of making it to the semi-finals of ISL for the first time in four seasons.
With the likes of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro up front, Pune’s firepower was never a doubt, while there were few question marks over the defensive solidity of the team but FC Pune City’s rearguard are proving to be a tough nut to crack.
When 18-year-old Panwar, a boy from Dehradun, was told on a team bus by coach Popovic that he was ready to make a debut, it was a dream come true for a youngster.
“I did not expect to break into the first team so early in the season, but now that I have, I feel that it is a big responsibility,” said Panwar, who made his debut against Chennaiyin FC that evening.
“Someone from the academy playing for the first team is very important in a way that it’s a huge motivation for other academy players,” he stated as one can easily make out that how clear he is about his role in the side.
Since then Panwar has gone onto make seven appearances for the side and is becoming one of the regular members of the playing XI. The soft-spoken defender credited his teammates and the coach for his rise.
“It is the very important season for me and everyone has really helped me gel into the side. I never felt like I am a junior player and they are senior pros. We all are supporting each other and thus we are now close to qualifying for the semi-finals, which was our primary target,” he added.
“I have learnt so much from the coach both on and off the field, He is always supporting the youngsters in the side,” Panwar added about his head coach, the man who gave him his big break.
As FC Pune City prepares to enthral home crowd one last time on February 25 and against stuttering FC Goa, and enter the semi-finals, Panwar will once again find his name on the teamsheet.