Fatorda was filled to the brim with pressure.
A penalty shootout, no matter between which teams, never fails to be nerve-wracking. The stakes here were even bigger. It was no secret that relations between Mumbai City and FC Goa were strained after Sergio Lobera made the move to Mumbai. And here they were, battling it out in the semi-final second leg, fighting for the ticket to the ISL final. Could it get any bigger than this?
Both teams could only score two goals out of the five penalty kicks. The shootout went into sudden death. Glan Martins misses it. Mumbai City FC were one kick away from reaching their first ever ISL final.
It is Rowllin Borges’ turn to take the penalty. Surely the pressure is immense?
“I don’t think so. When Glan didn’t score and the coach asked me to take the penalty, Ogbeche told me to stay calm, look at the keeper and just hit it on the side. I was just thinking that thing while taking the penalty,” Rowllin Borges says.
There was no further delay in Mumbai’s party. The ball was sent to the back of the net as the keeper went diving the wrong way. Borges turned back, his fingers first holding the club badge on his jersey and then, amusingly, going into his ears as he stuck out his tongue, resulting in a photo for the ages.
“Before the match, we were just discussing how to celebrate if we won the match. One of our staff members came up with this celebration and told me to do it. After I scored that penalty, I remembered and thought I’ll do that celebration. That’s why I did that,” he recollected while holding back his laughter.
With just less than a week remaining for the new season to begin, the focus is on defending the two titles. Much has changed in the Mumbai City FC camp this season though, something which would delight the other clubs in the league. The biggest change of all is the sailor in command of the Islanders’ ship. Sergio Lobera bid his farewell to the team after deciding to pursue better opportunities within the City Football Group. In place of the Spaniard, Melbourne City FC’s title-winning assistant coach Des Buckingham took over the Islanders.
“It was shocking for us,” Borges said when asked about Lobera’s sudden departure. “But we had to get used to what it is. We have to adapt.”
“We welcomed Des and are having a good time with him. I think he’s having a good time here too. We’re getting to know him, we still have some days left. We are adapting to him. It’s important because this season is going to be tougher than the last one. We are playing as defending champions and have to defend two trophies. It’s going to be a challenge but we’re up for it. Can’t wait for the season to begin,” he continued.
Along with Lobera, a lot of key players from last season left the club. While some moved on to other leagues, some have signed for rival clubs. Amrinder Singh and Hugo Boumous are the two big names who have signed for ATK Mohun Bagan, Mumbai City’s biggest challengers. Does that add some motivation to win against them?
“Definitely yes. ATK Mohun Bagan are our competitor, yes, but it’s not just them. We have to fight against all the teams till the last minute. A lot of players have left the club like Ogbeche, Le Fondre, Amrinder, Boumous and even the coach. It is good for them and I wish them all the best. But it is what it is. We(the team) have to adjust and go out there and perform our best. That is what we are going to do,” Borges said, sounding confident.
Mumbai City FC paid a massive transfer fee to secure the signing of prodigial Indian midfielder Apuia this season. With an eye on the future, the club has been roping in young talent who can become a core part of the club going forward. However, Apuia’s signing now means that the midfield is filled with potential players. Rowllin Borges, Apuia, Ahmed Jahouh and Raynier Fernandes are in contention for two slots in the double pivots. Borges, a team player through and through, is not much worried.
“It is good for the club, ultimately,” he says. “There are a lot of quality players available in the midfield and it’s a good thing for the coach to have these options. At the end, it’s about how the combination works out. The coach will make his decision on how the player is playing. The other players and I give our hundred percent in training. It doesn’t matter who plays or not, what matters is the team getting all three points from the game.”
Another thing which needs to be talked about is the bio-bubble in which the players are set to spend the next four months. Life in the bio-bubble is difficult for athletes across all sports, the IPL has proven. Many players pulled out of the cricketing event owing to the bubble and many foreign footballers refused to sign for clubs in the ISL due to the same reason.
“It is mentally tough to play in a bio-bubble. But we need to go through it and deal with it” Borges said, giving his opinion on life in bio-bubble. “The main thing is to gel up with all the players.
“Yes, it get stressful, but the best way to stay happy here is to win matches. When you win matches, everybody is happy. When we lost, we helped each other to bounce back. This was our way to success last season and we’re doing the same this season. Also, the arrangement the club has made is very helpful. The pool table, the lounge, the arcade, the PlayStation 5, everything helps us.”
Back in 2019, Mumbai City signed the midfielder on the back of some great performance for NorthEast United. He was handed a three-year contract which kept him at the club till 2022. The management, though, has been quite impressed with Borges, prompting them to give him another three-year extension this year itself. It didn’t take much convincing for Borges to put pen to paper.
“It was an easy decision, that’s why I didn’t take much time to sign the extension,” he confessed. “There were a few other clubs who were interested in me but my first choice was always Mumbai. When the opportunity came to extend my contract, I took it. I am very happy that I have committed my next few years to this club and I am hoping for many more years here.”
With the season starting for Borges and the team in under a week, the focus is now on defending the silverware. The primary objective is to take each match seriously and not think too much about rivalries with certain teams. Borges reiterated this point and stressed that the coming season is going to be tougher.
“We know that all teams are going to come hard at us. They’ll want to beat us since we will step out as the defending champions. This season will be tougher than the last one. I’m looking forward to all the teams. If you ask me some particular names, probably ATK Mohun Bagan and FC Goa, maybe Bengaluru FC too,” he said.
“I am eagerly waiting for the ISL to begin and play as the champions of last season. We will go out and try to win both the trophies.”
With a fresh squad, fresh coach and fresh approach, the same old success from last season will be on the minds of Rowllin Borges and Mumbai City FC. With the added pressure and motivation to live up to expectations, it will be interesting to see what lies ahead for the Islanders.
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