We are not focused on the results, we are focused on what brings the results – Punjab FC owner Sunny Singh

Aug 18, 2023 | Interview

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The long-awaited moment for the city of Punjab to make its mark in the Indian Super League has finally arrived. Punjab FC, previously known as RoundGlass Punjab FC, etched their name in history by becoming the first team to earn promotion to the ISL from the I-League.

Their achievement was nothing short of impressive. In the midst of the season, Punjab FC clawed their way back and went on an astonishing streak of 11 unbeaten matches, finishing 10 points ahead of their closest contenders Sreenidi Deccan FC.

Stepping into the Indian football scene in 2018, Punjab FC’s owner Sunny ‘Gurpreet’ Singh assumed full ownership of the club in 2020. Under his guidance, the club has scaled significant heights and is now poised to venture into unknown territory in the upcoming season.

In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Sunny Singh expressed his excitement for his newest challenge, one that will undoubtedly test the club’s mettle as they step up to a higher division.

“We are pretty excited about it. We won the I-League and became the first team to be promoted under this new program,” Singh said. ”We deserve to be playing in the ISL. It was a congested time period to get things done because, by the time I-League finished, we had to finish all the paperwork and all the other formalities to get our team ready for the ISL.”

“There was a lot of work to be done, so our team was very busy that we didn’t have much time to celebrate. But we are excited to be playing at a higher level, and our youth teams will be more inspired, so we are very happy with this development,” he added.

While ISL clubs are required to pay a franchise fee ranging from ₹12 to 16 crores every season, the AIFF stated that newly promoted teams were exempt from this obligation. However, Punjab FC chose to voluntarily pay this fee, with Sunny Singh explaining the rationale behind the club’s choice.

He also opened up about the plans to eventually move to Punjab for their home games and his ambitions to ensure that the club will thrive in the Indian Super League.

Here are excerpts from Sportskeeda’s interview with Punjab FC’s owner Sunny Singh.

Q: Promotions bring about new challenges and higher expectations. How do you plan to ensure that Punjab FC not only competes but thrives in the Indian Super League against teams that have more resources to spend?
Singh: I don’t think it’s a question of who can spend more money. Football is a team sport. You can’t buy a bunch of players and perform well, PSG for example, never really performed well with all the stars they have.
So, it’s a combination of having the right infrastructure, the staff, doing the right scouting, focusing on teamwork, and holistic development of the economy to cultivate a culture within a club and give it a long-term focus. We have done all of that.

But it will take us a year to find our bearings in the ISL. From there we will be fine, and we will perform well in the second year. It is also important to remember that we have a youth-centric academy, so we have a lot of youth playing in the first team. There will be a tussle between playing more youth players or bringing in seasoned players.

I believe bringing the youth and having them play in the first team is better for our academy overall. But we will be fine, as we are a smart club, with really good people, a quality program.

After this year, teams will begin taking notice of us and will take us seriously. We can have another conversation two years from now, then you can tell me if we are doing justice to the words.

Q: You were not obliged to pay the franchise fee to the ISL. What was the reason behind paying the fee and has it impacted the finances set aside for signing players?

Singh: We have two models and in one part there is a revenue share. So when you pay a franchise fee you partake in the media revenue distribution and if you don’t pay the fee, you don’t get that. We thought it will be more attractive to us in terms of our business model, so we opted for that,But we knew that we are going to have to spend some money on the ISL and we are happy to do that. We are going to run the club efficiently, so I’m not overly concerned about the financial impact of the club itself.

We also do things differently at Punjab FC. The club does things very deliberately, whether it’s the performance side of things or any other things. That said, we have to work on the club becoming financially sustainable and that there is enough revenue coming in to justify the investment we are making.

As far as the players are concerned, the more money the league has, the more players will step up. But the ISL is a great opportunity for the Indian players to play as international players come in and raise the bar.

Overall, we can see the level of football going up in the coming years, and I believe football will become the number two sport in the country.

Q: As an owner, how do you look at the balance between getting results and trusting the process? Football is a result-oriented business at the end of the day but how important is it to believe in the process, especially when things are not going your way?

Singh: We are different over there. You’re right in saying that football is a result-oriented game, where if we don’t perform well, the managers get fired. But we have been building this program for a very long term, and when you do that, you tend to think and do differently. You want stability in your staff, in the scouting process, and have a proper process.

Given the long-term goal, winning and losing here and there does not matter. I don’t look at the results, I look at the program, and if that is good the result will arrive. We won the I-League in the second year of our participation, we came there and proved we are the best team over there.

We will do the same over in the ISL, I’m not concerned about that. But the results don’t factor into my question. For example, we played Durand Cup, and we lost two games, but it doesn’t bother me.
I knew exactly what we were doing there. It was to get the players game time, especially the young players, so it was a good exposure for them.

Q: Head coach Staikos Vergetis did an exceptional job last season. However, did the thought of pursuing a more renowned figure arise following the team’s promotion?

Singh: No. My take on Staikos is he is a solid coach, the players love him, and he’s a player’s coach. He has proven his worth, he’s got very good people around him. So, we want to give him all the chances and to know that we are supporting him.

He should not operate in fear that ‘if I have one bad year, what will happen to me?’ I’m going to do the program the way the culture of the club is, which is to be patient. We don’t cut corners, rather take a straight-line approach and do the right things, and he’s doing that.

I have full confidence in him. The players love him and gel very well with the rest of the staff. There is great chemistry in the team. He drives the players and expects a lot out of them, but they are very loyal to him and we like that.

Can a coach who does not perform well for a long period be replaced? Sure. But Staikos is a solid guy.

Q: The club will be playing their home matches in Delhi next season, but when do you think it would be viable to consider relocating back to Punjab?

Singh: We would love to do it as soon as possible. Our choice was not to go to Delhi, our first choice was Punjab. But we are looking for the infrastructure, and if we find the right infrastructure we will move back.
But right now, we don’t. We have to give the players the right platform to play for our team.

Q: What are your ambitions and expectations for your club both on and off the field for the upcoming season?

Singh: Nikolaos Topaliatis (technical director of football) asked me about this and I said I don’t have any. My take is, has the program been defined and implemented as we designed it, and whether it has been improved? At the end of the day, we are an athlete-friendly academy and club. We love our players, we love our staff and want to take great care of them.

I believe we will do very well. Why? Because we are not focused on the results; we are focused on what brings the results. We watch the game and learn from it because any team can beat anyone in the ISL. When you create an institution, it’s a different way of thinking, and win or loss does not matter.

Q: Lastly, could you share a message for the supporters who have been with the club throughout its journey and are excited to witness their team competing at the highest level?

Singh: To our supporters what I will request them is to believe in us that we are doing the right thing for the club. We are doing the right thing in creating role models for the youth of Punjab. So have patience, support us, and be passionate about us, because we are going to make the supporters proud.

We are going to cultivate that community, engage them, and make them part of the success. We have many ideas but they will take time. My outreach to them will be to be patient. We are going to entertain and provide a lot of joy, but just be a little bit patient because Punjab FC are going to be very powerful.

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