Extra Time with Leeza Mangaldas: Phil Brown Reinvigorates FC Pune City

Follow pitch-side reporter Leeza Mangaldas as she takes you behind the scenes this Hero ISL season. New posts every week exclusively on indiansuperleague.com. Connect with Leeza on Instagram or Twitter at @leezamangaldas.

I met FC Pune City’s new head coach Phil Brown for the first time ahead of his debut match against Chennaiyin FC, and then once again post-match in Pune at the fixture against ATK. And each time I was struck by his enthusiasm. Taking over mid-season with FC Pune City having a very slim chance of making it to the playoffs, he certainly has his work cut out. But he seems eager to give it his best shot. With a big smile and determination in his eyes, he looks genuinely delighted to be here. His team has shown a lot of character in both matches under him: first with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against Chennaiyin FC, and then by equalising in a 2-2 draw to a quality ATK side. Here’s what he had to say about the challenge of resurrecting his team’s season, what he hopes to be bringing to the table, and his impressions of Indian football so far.  

“My experience in India has been nothing but positive,” Brown said as we began our interview for this story. “I’ve been very, very impressed with the work ethic of the Pune players, and especially impressed with the Indian players — in fact, to be totally honest, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

When I asked about his reasons for taking on the job, he explained that he has always wanted to manage abroad, and so was excited when the opportunity presented itself. “To manage a team in a culture other than my own, with a different set of languages, in a new ecosystem — it requires me to reinvent myself — and I wanted that experience,” he said.

“It was very disappointing to lose my position at Swindon Town. We’d changed 27 players in a transfer window — and it takes time to realign — and I was disappointed that I didn’t get that time. But now, I have the opportunity to try to rescue Pune’s season — the challenge is to win all our remaining games, and I’m going to do everything I can to help achieve that.”

Often a change of guard can reinvigorate a team, which is exactly what Brown hopes to do. He credits Pradyum Reddy for already regaining a positive momentum ahead of his appointment and is eager to build on Pune’s new unbeaten streak.

“If a team is in a moment where the confidence is low, then a new manager can come in and lift the cloud,” he said. “I congratulate Pradyum for his performance in the last couple of games before the winter break — I was taking over after things were already looking up.”

With the support of his assistant coach, fellow Englishman Trevor Morgan, who has a wealth of experience in India, Brown has quickly become acquainted with the strengths and skills of his players, and with the Indian football ecosystem. “We have goals in our team, we have top quality creative players — there’s tremendous potential,” he said. 

Speaking of players, FC Pune City’s Iain Hume played under Brown in 2012 at Preston North End, so he had a familiar face in his new squad. “I was very happy to see Humey — we had unfinished business,” Brown shared. “Our interaction at Preston came to an end abruptly because Humey was one of three strikers that got injured over two days, and he was in the treatment room when I left.”

Hume is the only foreign player to have been part of the Hero ISL for all five seasons, and he’s been known to bring bundles of positivity and professionalism wherever he goes. “The coach’s energy is fantastic,” Hume said when I met him ahead of their first match under Brown in Chennai. “He’s intense, it’s clear this means a lot to him — and that’s truly great motivation for a player — when a coach gives you 100 per cent”

Over his almost two decade long managerial career, Brown has repeatedly proven his ability to rescue teams and achieve significant results. It was under him that Hull City got promoted to the Premier League in 2008 for the first time in its history. He also had a positive impact as coach at Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allardyce. And it was at Bolton that he has his fondest memories as a player.

But Brown hasn’t always been ensconced in the elite and often insular world of modern football. At 16, he became an apprentice electrician, and even after signing a pro contract with Hartlepool United, he managed his electrical business alongside. It wasn’t till several years into his career that he became a full-time footballer. Given how fleeting success and riches can be, he’s ‘grateful for the breadth of perspective’ that his ‘humble roots’ provided him. “It has stood me in good stead,” he shared.

Which is why, what inspires Brown most about football is the game’s ability to bring people together — its capacity to spark joy. “As a manager, when you can get a group of people united to achieve a common goal, it’s magical,” he said. “And that magic finds itself reflected also amongst the fans — to see fans coming together to support their club — to see fans here in Pune dancing together when we score a goal — to be able to evoke that sense of community and put a smile of people’s faces — that’s what football is all about.”

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