ISL 2023-24: Punjab FC coach Vergetis looks to capitalise on positives, with hopes for success, in maiden ISL campaign

Dec 14, 2023 | Interview

Share this post
A title win might not be in the cards, but the Greek says that genuine progress in his first Indian Super League season and having a ready team for next season would be satisfying.

Punjab FC earned its Indian Super League (ISL) promotion after clinching the I-League title in the 2022-23 season with panache.

With just 16 wins and two losses in 22 matches, Punjab became champion with 52 points – 10 more than runner-up Sreenidi Deccan. Making its foray into India’s top-flight league, expectations were high from head coach Staikos Vergetis and his men.

But, nine matches into the ISL season, it has been an arduous journey for Punjab. It is yet to notch its first win in the competition.

“I always knew we would face difficulties in many factors, but I was expecting it [the winless run] to last for a lesser number of games. We are carrying a particular roster of players from the I-League, a lot of them being young players, so it was always going to be challenging,” Vergetis told Sportstar.

“But I do not say this out of disappointment. Apart from the match against Chennaiyin [FC], we have been competitive in all our matches.”

Why does Vergetis remain optimistic?

In its title-winning I-League season, Punjab conceded 16 goals throughout its campaign. Cut to the present – it has already conceded the same number of goals in just nine outings.

Compared to last season, the defensive statistics are alarming, to say the least. However, Vergetis remains optimistic because he cites “individual mistakes” as the culprit, which he believes can be improved over time.

“In football, there are four parts – defence, attack and the two transitional phases [in both the halves]. In the case of defence, we have made some individual mistakes. In every game, something different has happened. I am happy that they are individual mistakes and are not collective issues. I was expecting these mistakes because we have players who are inexperienced in this division… in the first phase, we have made mistakes and paid for them,” the Greek explained.

“For the team to perform, there needs to be a family-like environment and be united. This is what we are playing for.”

The attacking department of Punjab has also looked unpolished till now, with the team scoring eight goals now (the third lowest in the league). Vergetis said that his mantra has always been to focus more on the attacking play but admits that his team’s forward line has not found the rhythm to disrupt the balance of the opponent’s defence.

Vergetis has an intelligent forward in Luka Majcen, who finished as top-scorer in the I-League last season. Behind the Slovenian, he deploys talented playmakers in Juan Mera and Madih Talal. But the trio has found it challenging to cope with the pace of the ISL till now.

Mera, who worked magic with Majcen last season, is yet to find his footing. His trademark line-breaking passes and deft touches have been missing in the Spaniard’s arsenal. Majcen, who is usually impeccable with his work rate and movement on and off the ball, has not been able to fire on all cylinders, having been able to bag just three goals till now.

“We have changed some players, so it is obvious [that] with new players, Luka will face some difficulties. Madih needs time to adapt to how football is played here. For the team to perform, there needs to be a family-like environment and be united. This is what we are playing for.”

‘Not a big fan of the January window’

The first half of the ISL season is almost about to end in December. With Punjab finding it difficult to get going, it would be a fair assumption that Vergetis would opt for some winter shopping in the January window to strengthen his team. But the Greek believes otherwise.

“Personal experience in football has taught me that you cannot do magic in January. You can bring one, a maximum of two players. I prefer to have the roster I have had from the summer and to develop this roster and increase their level. I think this is the ambition of any coach.”

But the Greek said that if an irresistible offer comes on the table, there is a chance he would break his stance on January signings.

Realistic expectations

Vergetis admits that he never plays for a draw. That being said, the Greek also knows how to keep his feet on the ground, explaining that he likes to maintain a balance, which helps him cope with the mental pressure of being a coach.

While he does not go overboard celebrating a regular win, a loss does not mean the end of the world either. From there, it is just about motivating his players for the next match. This philosophy keeps him optimistic that the first ISL win will eventually come.

A title win might not be in the cards, but the Greek says that genuine progress in his first ISL season and having a ready team for next season would be satisfying.

Punjab’s quest for its debut ISL win continues as it faces an in-form Kerala Blasters team on Thursday. The Blasters would not have coach Ivan Vukomanovic on the touchlines after the latter was served a one-match ban for his comments against referees, but for Vergetis, that would hardly matter.

“He [Vukomanovic] would be in the stands and have constant communication with his team. Kerala Blasters is a very good team and has good players like [Adrian] Luna, [Dimitrios] Diamantakos and [Kwame] Peprah. They will surely make it difficult for us.”

Related news