Punjab FC – A New Beginning For The Shers
Author: Gautam Varier
For the first time ever in the Indian Super League, the I-League winner has been promoted to the competition and the team to make history is Punjab FC. The Shers were the class of the I-League last season, in what was a dominant campaign under new head coach Staikos Vergetis. They won 16 of their 22 games and closed out the campaign with seven successive victories to win the title with a 10-point gap.
With the Shers set to make their debut on Saturday against Mohun Bagan Super Giant, let’s have a look at who helped them get here and the additions that they have made in their quest for a strong first season.
The biggest key to promotion was Luka Majcen, who was named Hero of the Season for 2022-23. The Slovenian had previously plied his trade for two-time defending champions Gokulam Kerala FC and was pivotal in ending their reign at the top. The veteran led the league with 16 goals and helped Punjab average a league-leading 2.04 goals per game.
The Shers were the strongest starters in the league, finding the back of the net in the first halves more than any other team, with their 25 strikes well clear of Sreenidhi Deccan, who had 18. Majcen was a big reason why, with nine goals, and he struck the opening goal in games on eight separate occasions, with no one else doing it more than four times.
Majcen’s partner in crime was Spaniard Juan Mera down the flanks. Mera previously had stints with NEROCA and East Bengal in the I-League but had never scored more than twice in a season. Then in 2022-23, he exploded with 10 goals and 2 assists to take home Best Midfielder honors.
While the two were phenomenal, Punjab did need a goal threat with experience in the ISL, and they have brought in Wilmar Jordan. Jordan scored 15 goals in 15 games in all competitions for NorthEast United FC last season, finding the back of the net eight times in his 11 ISL outings. Madih Talal has also arrived on the back of a solid campaign in the Greek second division for AE Kifisias FC. The Frenchman had 6 goals and 4 assists as Kifisias finished at the top.
When it comes to the Indian contingent among the attack, Leon Augustine, Prasanth K, and Ranjeet Singh are some notable arrivals, but there are no big hitters. The hope would be that over the course of the season, the foreign contingent helps ensure Punjab have enough firepower to hang with the best that the ISL has to offer.
On to central midfield and there are a ton of new faces for the Shers from last season. Youngsters Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Ricky Shabong have been brought in from FC Goa and Mohun Bagan respectively, and are expected to have significant roles. Kingslee Fernandes, a mainstay for Churchill Brothers last season, is another new signing while Samuel Kynshi who had 11 goal involvements in 21 games last season for Real Kashmir FC has also been snapped up.
As for the backline, Punjab FC had conceded just 0.72 goals per game last season, second-best in the division. While Kiran Chemjong, who won the Best Goalkeeper award, is set to remain between the sticks, there are going to be some changes in front of him.
Melroy Assisi has been signed from Rajasthan United for ₹20 lakhs and will be partnered by Dimitrios Chatziisaias. Chatziisaias played in the Greek top-flight last season for Atromitos FC and provides a massive presence at the back. The Greek is going to be key for this backline, as he has far more experience than his three defensive partners.
Nikhil Prabhu is expected to slot in at right back after arriving on loan from FC Goa, and he did feature for them in five games in the ISL last season. Left-back, meanwhile, features one of the few on defense who look set to carry on from last season for Punjab in the form of Mohammed Salah.
So, what should we expect from Punjab FC having said all of that? Well, I think they’re going to have their struggles. While the attack has some potential, there are question marks in central midfield and defense. If some of their young Indian players can break out, maybe Punjab can get close to the top half, but otherwise, I expect some growing pains.
Featured Pic Credit: I-League