If there’s one team to watch come the 2020-21 ISL Season, it’s Mumbai City FC.
As part of our series, we would be taking a look at all the 10 ISL teams, where they stand at the moment and what should be the way forward for them going into the next season.
Second up on our list is Mumbai City Fc.
Performance in previous season– 5th position in league
Mumbai City came ever so close to qualifying for the playoffs last season but as fate would have it, their fate was sealed at the fifth position. In the six years of the Indian Super League, Mumbai City have never managed to go beyond the semifinals. So why is that a team that has never even managed to reach the final of the ISL ever before is being touted by one and all as the next powerhouse in Indian football? Why is everyone talking about Mumbai’s quest to be the best team on Indian soil?
Well, the answer lies in the name of the club itself(Mumbai CITY). To be precise, the CITY FOOTBALL GROUP has taken over Mumbai City Fc and this takeover would mean wholesome changes in the running of the club. The level of impact City Group will have on Mumbai City is just about anyone’s guess.
Ask your grandfather about how many teams are there in Manchester and immediately he would come up with Manchester United. There was only one team in Manchester as such until a certain City Football Group came into the picture. And that certain City Football Group’s impact has been such that Manchester has been blue for the majority of the last decade. In the last 10 years of the Premier League, City has won 4 titles as compared to United’s 2. For a newly formed entity to have such dominance in the game and potentially compete and outshine the most celebrated team in England is no mean feat and that’s the reason why Mumbai City fans have every reason to celebrate, even before the season has begun.
Let’s have a look at Mumbai City’s approach going into the next season:
Mumbai City have made all the headlines in the transfer market so far and has struck all the right chords. Let’s take a look at some of the signings Mumbai have made till now.
Potentially their biggest signing going into the next season, Sergio Lobera is arguably the best coach ever to set foot in the Indian Super League. And his numbers speak for himself. An astounding 34 victories and 11 draws in the 60 games he has managed in the ISL speaks volumes about the gaffer. Well, it’s a record held by none other. But it’s not just about the wins when we are talking about Lobera. Sergio Lobera is much beyond that.
Sergio Lobera means goals goals and more goals. A total of 128 goals in 60 matches is a stat that’s phenomenal to say the least. Add his fluid possession based style of play and you become a fan of the man. Under Sergio Lobera, FC Goa impressed one and all with their gameplay and at times, it was hard to believe that an Indian Team was out there on the pitch. Such became the magnitude of FC Goa under Sergio Lobera that Goa was a team liked by one and all in Indian Football and much of the credit needs to be given to Lobera, for he plays a style that’s pleasure to the eyes.
The City Group has a tradition of bringing in marquee players in their first season incharge of a new team, but in Mumbai’s case, it might just be an excellent coach. Given Lobera’s pedigree, a top four finish is the least Mumbai fans can expect from now onwards.
PICKPOCKETING FC GOA’S BEST PLAYERS
Mumbai City have managed to rope in some of the best players currently playing on Indian soil. Along with Sergio Lobera, came his trusted players and all three of Ahmed Jahouh, Mourtada Fall and Mandar Rao Desai have shifted shores from Goa to Mumbai. While it does harm Goa’s chances in the AFC Champions League next season, it is a Win-Win situation for Mumbai.
Ahmed Jahouh is probably the finest midfielder to have to have plied his trade in the Indian Super League. He can pick a pass like none other and at 31 years of age, he is still at the very peak of his career. Speaking of Mourtada Fall, the towering Senegalese has been nothing short of a phenomenon in the FC Goa backline in the last two years. Not only has he been rock-solid at the back but he has also contributed nine goals and two assists upfront. Signing a defender of Fall’s capability has surely strengthened the Mumbai defensive half. Same is the case of Mandar. A native Goan, he played for the Gaurs since the inception of the ISL and has garnered the most appearances ever in the history of the League. For a native Goan to leave his club after six successful seasons and that too when the club gives you a three-year contract extension is surely no mean feat. But such is the trust in Lobera that each of these three players want to continue playing under him, even at the cost of not being able to become the first players representing an Indian Club ever to play in the AFC Champions League.
These three players can turn out to be invaluable assets for Mumbai City, not only in the next season but for years to come.
Apart from pickpocketing FC Goa, Mumbai city have also made some shrewd signings in the form of Mohammad Rakip from Kerala Blasters and Vikram Pratap Sandhu from the Indian Arrows. While Rakip will certainly play a handy role next season, all eyes will be on the young sensation Vikram Pratap Sandhu. Touted as the heir to Sunil Chhetri by many Indian Football fans, Vikram can vastly improve his game under the guidance of Lobera and his development in the coming years from a talented youngster to a solid player will surely be delightful to witness in front of our very own eyes.
Now let’s look at the existing foreigners of Mumbai from last season and whether anyone of them should be retained next season or not.
MODOU SOUGOU- DON’T RETAIN
Sougou had an impressive first season in the ISL when he notched up 12 goals. But in the season gone by, he looked a pale shadow of his former self as he could muster only 3 goals. He’s 35 and age isn’t on his side either. Add to that, Sougou’s playing style does not match that of Lobera. Sougou is more of a counter attacking player who does not like to get himself involved in the game as such. Thus, there’s no reason for Mumbai to retain Sougou.
AMINE CHERMITI- DON’T RETAIN
With just 6 goals to his name despite playing as a central striker, Chermiti had a below par season last time around. With options such as Ogbeche, Miku and La Fondre available in the market, there is absolutely no reason for Mumbai to retain Chermiti.
SERGE KEVYN- DON’T RETAIN
Much was expected of the Gabon international when he was signed by Mumbai but a return of 1 goal in the entire season was shocking to say the least. What’s more shocking was the way in which he missed gilt edged opportunities last season. There’s no chance of Mumbai retaining his services and such was the performance of Serge Kevyn that not a single person would blame them for it.
DIEGO CARLOS- RETAIN
If there’s one position in Indian Football where there’s enough quality Indian players, its on the wings. Most of the teams use Indian wingers but Mumbai is an exception and they have every reason to continue following the trend as they have a box of tricks in the form of Diego Carlos. Although he could muster only 2 goals and 2 assists in the last season, he impressed one and all with his pace and trickery. Lobera likes wingers who are ready to run at defences with Jackichand being a prime example. Carlos is certainly an upgrade over Jacki and thus can potentially set the stage on fire if he’s retained next season. But with his contract already over, it remains to be seen whether they offer him a contract extension or not.
MOHAMED LARBI- DON’T RETAIN
One of the highest paid players in the league last season, Larbi came with a massive reputation. His talent was never in doubt but he failed to adapt to Indian Football. Despite scoring a couple of goals and registering 3 assists, he did not live upto his billing. Lobera likes an attacking midfielder who can run with the ball. At FC Goa, he had the services of Manuel Lanzarote and Hugo Boumous who carried the ball for him but Larbi is not someone who likes to run with the ball and he might not be able to adapt to the playing style of Lobera. Thus, rather than paying such a high salary to him, Mumbai are better off letting go of his services and its unlikely that he would be retained.
MATO GRGIC- DON’T RETAIN
Mato Grgic formed a rock-solid partnership at the back with fellow Croatian Mislav Komorski while playing for Northeast United. Impressed by his performances, Mumbai City signed him on a 1 year deal. But injuries plagued him last season and Mumbai had to play with an all Indian back four for most of the season. Even when he was there on the pitch, he didn’t look assured. Thus, Mumbai will not be looking to retain him for the next season.
PAULO MACHADO- DON’T RETAIN
The captain of Mumbai City last season and one of the best players in the team, Machado was a fan favourite at the Mumbai Football Arena. His injury mid-season had such an impact on the team from which they could never recover. Machado has an year left on his contract but the thing that goes against Machado is his Playing Style. Machado is a deep lying box to box midfielder who covers every blade of grass while he is out there on the pitch. But Lobera likes to play with a double pivot in midfield to go along with an attacking midfielder rather than three central midfielders. With Ahmed Jahouh signing for Mumbai, it is pretty much certain that he would be one of the first names on the team sheet. And Lenny’s role in FC Goa would be played by Rowlin Borges, India’s very own Patrick Viera. Thus, there is no space for a player like Paulo Machado. No doubting his talent or even his performances for Mumbai City, but Paulo Machado’s time at Mumbai looks all but over.
Now let’s look at the areas that Mumbai City still lack and look to further strengthen in order to become one of the best teams in India.
MUMBAI DESPERATELY NEED A TOP STRIKER
Out of all the signings they have made so far, there’s one department where they still need to come up with the goods. And that department is pretty much the most important one. Mumbai need to sign a top striker if they intend to top the competition charts next season. They have been linked to a number of forwards in the form of Bartholomew Ogbeche, Ferran Corominas, Adam le Fondre, Jonathan Soriano and Miku but any deal is far from being done at the moment. Last season they had the likes of Amine Chermiti and Modou Sougou leading the line for them but both of them failed to come up with the goods. A total of nine goals were shared between the two and it paled when compared to the top strikers in the League. All of Coro, Ogbeche, Krishna and Valskis had 14 or more goals to go along with the crucial assists they provided all season long to their team mates. So, if Mumbai are to reach the business end of the ISL, they will have to bloster their attack with a striker of great Pedigree.
MUMBAI NEED AN ASIAN CENTRE BACK TO SHORE UP THEIR DEFENCE
The two most important positions in a football field is the striking one and the centre-back one. While one scores the goals, the other puts his body on the line to save them. And as the trend goes in the Indian Super League, both these positions are held by foreigners. While Mumbai have managed to lure in Mourtada Fall, the other centre back slot is still empty. Last season, Mumbai played with an all Indian backline but with Lobera at the helm, the trend looks set to be discontinued. Lobera likes his centre backs to play out from the back and traditionally, Indian centre-backs haven’t been great at that. Someone as talented as Chingalsana Singh failed to break into the Goa Starting XI on a regular basis. Sarthak Golui was impressive last season but Lobera would love to have a foreigner partner Mourtada Fall at the back. Mumbai don’t seem to be retaining Mato Grgic and if that’s the case, they will have to look for a foreigner defender in the market, preferably an Asian one.
Now let’s look at the players Mumbai City can potentially target in the market, who would suit Sergio Lobera’s style of play as well.
Jonathan Soriano is a player who is currently plying his trade for Girona FC in the Segunda Division (2nd Division) of the Spanish Football System. Girona FC is another City Group owned club and a transfer to another partner club should not be much of a problem. Soriano comes with a massive reputation of banging in the goals and Mumbai can expect just that if they manage to get him. There is every chance that in case Soriano comes to India, the Golden Boot’s race might just as well be over even before the start of the tournament. A Spanish International, he has played for some of the biggest teams in Europe including Barcelona. Having scored in tournaments like the Champions League and the Europa League, scoring in the Indian Super League should not be much difficult for the man. Add Sergio Lobera’s playing style to it and Mumbai can potentially have the most dangerous duo in the ISL working together for them. At Goa, we all saw how Lobera used Coro and Soriano is as good as Coro, if not more. Having played in Asia before for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia as well as in the Chinese Super League, adapting to football in India would not be a problem for Soriano either.
What can be a problem is his contract with Girona FC. Incase Girona qualify for the LaLiga next season, Soriano’s contract with Girona automatically gets extended for another season and all hopes of seeing him in the ISL next season might just turn out to be futile.
Sorry Girona, but Mumbai City fans would surely be praying that you do not manage to qualify for LaLiga this season, as Girona’s loss is Mumbai’s gain.
In case Girona qualifies for LaLiga next season or Soriano opts not to join Mumbai, they can look towards another prolific hitman in the form of Bartholomew Ogbeche. Everyone knows the track record that Ogbeche possesses in the ISL but whats even more intriguing is the fact that he has scored that many goals playing for teams that did not have as much firepower in their ranks that Mumbai will possess next season. Both Northeast United and Kerala Blasters played a pragmatic brand of football when compared to Lobera’s fluid, attacking football. Despite that, Ogbeche has managed to score 27 goals in just 34 appearances in the ISL. Under Lobera, the goals per game ratio looks like heading in only one direction for Ogbeche and that direction is anyone’s guess.
In case Mumbai are unable to retain the services of Diego Carlos, they should look no further than Pana Triadis. One of the most skillful players in the Indian Super League, Triadis is currently a free agent after being released by Northeast United midway last season. Still only 27 years of age, Triadis has already proven his mettle in the ISL. In the seven games he played last season, Triadis provided an assist apart from scoring two goals including an absolute better against Mumbai and Amrinder. Ask Amrinder Singh about that strike and he would be more than happy to face such shots from Pana only on the training ground. Versatility is another asset Triadis possesses in his arsenal as he can play all across the front three, something Lobera would not mind at all. As already mentioned, Lobera has a special liking for pacy and skillful wingers and Triadis fits the bill perfectly. Imagine Triadis crossing the ball off a Rabona and Soriano finishing it off in spectacular fashion. Would be quite a sight eh?
AN ASIAN CENTRE-BACK
The Indian Super League is all set to follow the compulsory Asian player rule next season which makes it mandatory for an Asian player to be a part of the squad. With most other positions taken by non-Asian foreigners, Mumbai must look to sign an Asian Centre-Back. There are various options available in the market and Mumbai can look to sign someone from the A-League. In case they are willing to spend a fortune, they can also look at someone like a Roozbeh Chesmi who has been linked to FC Goa. At 26, Chesmi is at the prime of his career and it would need some convincing to get him to the ISL. But in case Mumbai can lure him, the pairing of Chesmi and Fall could be unbeatable. But Roozbeh Chesmi to Mumbai looks highly unlikely.
Other than these players, there are 2 players who have been heavily linked to Mumbai City- Miku and Joshua Brillante. Let’s take a look at the reasons as to why Mumbai should not look towards signing them.
Miku is one of the deadliest strikers the ISL has seen but at 35 years of age, he is not getting any younger. After the injury he had in the 2018-19 season playing for Bengaluru FC, Miku hasn’t been his former self. Since the injury, Miku has scored just a solitary goal and that is an alarming stat for someone of Miku’s calibre. Injuries have plagued him in recent times and if one adds his wage demands to that, it would be better off to look at other options. Thus, Mumbai should not look towards Miku and rather look to sign Ogbeche in case Soriano isnt available.
An Australian International, Joshua Brillante has been heavily linked to Mumbai City Fc. At 27 years of age, he is entering the prime of his career and can turn out to be the one of the best ever signings in the ISL. Add to it that he fills in the Asian quota and he can just be the player Mumbai are looking for. But there’s a reason as to why Mumbai should not look towards signing Brillante. Despite all of Brillante’s brilliance, he is a central midfielder by trade and midfield is one area where Mumbai dont lack anything. They already have the foreign option in Ahmed Jahouh to go in with Indian Internationals Rowlin Borges and Raynier Fernandes. On the bench, they have players like Bidyananda Singh and Sourav Das. Thus, signing Brillante would mean wasting precious talents like Raynier Fernandes who recently signed a contract extension with Mumbai. Instead of midfield, Mumbai could be better off using a foreigner on the wings and thus, Mumbai should resist the temptation of signing Brillante.
Talking about the bench strength of Mumbai City, they have one of the strongest benches on paper. Phurba Lachenpa is one of finest young keepers in the country and so is Sarthak Golui in defence. Bidyananda Singh and Sourav Das provide strength to midfield while Vikram Pratap Sandhu would be more than fired up to take any opportunity that comes his way with open arms.
Mumbai City have certainly made a team that can land them their first ever Indian Super League title next season. They already look as good as anyone on paper. With another couple of top signings, they might just end up making the best squad in the ISL next season. And in Lobera, they have hired a tactician who certainly knows how to play his cards well. One thing for sure- not only Mumbai City fans but anyone watching the ISL would surely become a fan of Mumbai’s team next season. In case they don’t love Mumbai, they will envy Mumbai. Either way, its a victory for Mumbai City Fc.
Under the banner of the City Football Group, Mumbai is at the beginning of something special in Indian Football, something very special.
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