Mumbai: To call Mumbai City FC a formidable force to be reckoned with would be a hyperbole, considering how the team has performed at the Indian Super League since its inception. But there's a newfound hopefulness around the franchise this year which feeds the belief that they can vie for the title this season.
The new-look Mumbai City emerge as the marginal favourites ahead of their season opener against Jamshedpur FC on Tuesday at the Mumbai Football Arena.
This is not because Australia veteran Tim Cahill, who is arguably the biggest name to enter the league this season, is ruled out with a suspension. Or because Jamshedpur's first choice goalkeeper and India veteran Subrata Paul is completing a three-match ban. The alterations Mumbai have made ahead of the start of the season, which begins right from the managerial post has led to this sudden sense of optimism. With Jorge Costa, the club has promised an improvised show and change of fortunes at the Mumbai Football Arena.
Despite having managed 11 clubs in the past decade across six countries, Costa offers a lot more to the table. The coach admittedly said that he has his own philosophy after working under the wishful eyes of quality managers, including Jose Mourinho and Carlos Queiroz. The 46-year-old's short managerial career raises multiple questions about his chances with the Mumbai outfit but having won eight Portuguese league titles, one Champions League and a UEFA Cup as a player, he knows a thing or two about winning titles.
Apart from the manager, the Islanders — as they are fondly called — have made several changes to their squad and roped in a handful of foreign and Indian players to find balance. Notable foreign acquisitions include Paulo Machado (Portugal) and striker Rafael Bastos (Brazil). With Subhashish Bose, Mumbai has strengthened their defence, which was a definite concern last season. While Romanian centre-back Lucian Goian was retained, Souvik Ghosh and Anwar Ali's arrivals should help Mumbai shore up the defence.
Add winger Modou Sougou's experience and Arnold Issoko's versatility to the picture and Mumbai's team looks more formidable than last season. The changes within the club could prove to be pivotal as they are desperate to brush aside memories of the horrendous season that they endured last year. "Yesterday, I spoke to the players and the players felt they ready to start. About last season, it is true that we finished 7th but it is also true a lot of things have changed, all the staff, a lot of players. In the beginning, the expectations we have, what we want is to first to finish in the first four, then we’ll see," said Costa at the pre-match press conference in Mumbai on Monday.
Meanwhile for Jamshedpur, the team's Spanish essence has left many wary of the attractive brand of football it promises. Coach Cesar Ferrando has managed a number of La Liga teams, including heavyweights Atletico Madrid and given the generous Spanish influence, it is expected that Jamshedpur will exhibit a tinge of the Spanish style of football when they take the field. However, the 56-year-old refrains from focusing on the style. “I don’t have any style I just want to win matches. First, you have to defend well and then go for attack. If you see FC Barcelona, they have a good attack as well as a good defence. We have to play short and long passes. My style is to win matches,” Ferrando said.
Among the Spaniards, defender Tiri and midfielder Mario Arques are expected to maintain the team's core. With Raju Gaikwad, a product of Tata Football Academy, Sanjay Balmuchu, Pratik Chowdhary, and Dhanachandra Singh, there is depth in defence. Since Cahill is suspended for Tuesday's opener, fit-again Sumeet Passi’s chances look brighter. The forward is coming back fresh after scoring goals for India at the recently-concluded SAFF Cup.
Moreover, the Jamshedpur roster includes three youngsters from the Tata Football Academy, which leaves the door open for the academy boys to cement a spot in the first team. During the pre-season, players from the Tata Football Academy got a first-hand experience of the first team, and Ferrando was impressed with what he saw. “They are confident, they sacrifice and can score a lot of goals.”
Mumbai's pre-season in Thailand was productive too. The team scored 14 but conceded seven in four games. “We are scoring a lot of goals. This made me happy. Let us see what we can do in our first game tomorrow but I hope to be happy with our performance.”
While Costa loves to dream big, he doesn’t wish to put undue pressure on his boys. He urges them to take one step at a time. "I am sure that we are ready for the first game. It’s always difficult to start but I have asked my players to play freely, without any kind of pressure and to put up a good quality fight," the former CFR Cluj boss said.
Despite the absence of experienced players Cahill and Paul, Ferrando said that he's looking for balance. "I have a good squad and working very hard and not having three players around is no excuse," he said before adding that the team needed to balance both defence and attack."
It'll be interesting to see how these two teams perform under new managers and with a handful of changes in the personnel.
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Updated Date: Oct 02, 2018 13:55:23 IST