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ISL: Bartholomew Ogbeche interview — Leaving Kerala Blasters, admiration for Sergio Lobera and more

ISL: Bartholomew Ogbeche interview — Leaving Kerala Blasters, admiration for Sergio Lobera and more


Updated: 13 March 2021 4:41 AM GMT

Ferran Corominas, Sunil Chhetri, Marcelinho and Iain Hume. They are the only footballers who have scored more Indian Super League (ISL) goals than Bartholomew Ogbeche, whose tally stands at an astonishing 27 out of 34 games.

Into his third season in the ISL, however, Ogbeche finds himself at yet another new club, Mumbai City FC — every bit content and happy, though, doubtlessly.

Just minutes after returning to the team hotel from a training session, on a Sunday evening, the Nigerian goal-machine sits down for a lengthy interview with The Bridge to discuss a range of topics and never for once, does he hurry.

"Fantastic. Really feels fantastic to be back," he begins with a small laugh on being asked what it is like to get back to the football pitch after a gap of almost eight months. "That's where (the pitch) we all wanted to get back to and we're really happy."

For someone like Ogbeche, who loves the game outright, it must have been difficult staying away. Indeed, he was able to spend quality time with his family through the initial lockdown phase, evident from a number of TikTok videos he made along with his children and posted on social media, but when you are a professional footballer, you are always waiting for the start of a new season.

And that's why along with those TikTok videos, you will find videos of him working out and training, whether he is on vacation or quarantining at home. That's why, now that he is back, kicking the ball around and scoring for fun in Mumbai's training sessions, he feels just fine. Lucky him.

"It's been tough, you're right, with the situation being such," the 36-year-old concedes. "And, first of all, we have to start by commending the FSDL, the ISL, the AIFF for organising the league in such a professional and fantastic manner. We all have to really give them a lot of credit.

"In that sense, I think, we're lucky to be able to get back to doing what we love to do," he adds. "But it's not going to be easy... because the pre-season is short, the fixtures are going to be a little cramped. It's all about staying fresh, you know, physically and mentally."

The pressure of preparations aside, it's been a really good start to life at the City Football Group-backed ISL franchise. Mumbai have done their part to help him make it a smooth transition. He is content with the environment, he says that having teammates like Rowllin Borges and Md. Rakip — players he has played before with, with Rowllin at NorthEast United and with Rakip at Kerala Blasters — has helped him a lot.

"We wished sometime in future to be together and now look we're together. How things turn out!" he says. "Not just them, Hugo Boumous and I have been speaking for the past couple of years. We've been friends and we've been speaking for so long... the same thing with (Mourtada) Fall and Mandar Rao... They, we wished we could be together and look today, we are together."

lobera Ogbeche has high admiration for Sergio Lobera (Source: Twitter/MCFC)

Moreover, to top it all, now that he is training under Sergio Lobera, Ogbeche feels vindicated that he moved to Mumbai from Kerala Blasters rather than any other club. Not that it was planned that he would be donning a new jersey this season, because he did have a two-year contract at Kerala and the plan was to stay put and help the club achieve success.

"I was also surprised like many others (at having to leave Kerala Blasters)," Ogbeche reveals. "But once I knew that I wasn't going to stay at Kerala Blasters, and I got the information regarding Mumbai (that they were interested), I didn't have to think twice." Why? Was it because of the involvement of a global brand like the City Football Group?

No, Ogbeche corrects. "Before you talk about City Group, I can tell you honestly that Sergio Lobera was the first reason... He is a coach I've always admired, since I've been here in India."

"The fact is, when the opportunity came up to work with a coach like him for me, I wasn't going to think about it twice," he says. "Plus getting to know that the City Group was involved, only made things easier, I admit that. But I can tell you honestly, before City Group, I looked at the coach I was going to work under. For me, it's a privilege, you know, to have the opportunity to work under Lobera. The City Group's involvement, it was just an advantage on top of my belief and my inspiration and aspirations to work with Lobera."


But what about the millions of Kerala Blasters fans who adored him and wanted to see him in yellow this season as well? "What I have for them, the Kerala fans, is nothing but love and respect and admiration," he says. "It was amazing over there and while I was there, some fans became more than friends. I still receive some text messages and everything, besides the fact that I'm no more there... Nothing hard, but just wishing me well, which is something I really admire.

"I don't get into judging, you know, how people react. Football fans have always been very emotional. Not just here but also in Europe... You are emotional especially when you love your team. So I understand that and I respect that. There a lot of things that are not in your hands for you to control, which is how it is. So I find myself in a situation where I'm lucky enough to be in a team like Mumbai City."

"The best thing I can do is to wish Kerala Blasters best of luck, except when they are playing against me, of course," he laughs.

Interestingly, Ogbeche still thinks his best in the ISL is yet to come, even at 36, even after scoring 15 times in 16 games, including the Fans' Goal of the Season, for Kerala last term. "Without a doubt," he says.

It is with these three words that Ogbeche epitomises the drive and dedication that the big-name foreigners in the ISL are often accused of lacking.

Ogbece Ogbeche in action in a pre-season friendly (Source: Twitter/MCFC)

After all, when it comes to the former Paris-Saint Germain forward, it is about more than just natural ability. It is about a player with total dedication to making himself the best he can be. "I always aspire for more and I still believe my best is yet to come," he repeats.

"Being able to be prolific, being able to score so many, I owe it to my teammates because without my teammates at NorthEast, without my teammates at Kerala, I would have been nothing. So, first of all, thanks to my teammates and coaches I've worked with.

"Personally, I am committed to what I do, you know, I'm dedicated to what I do. For me, football is number one. I have to think about how to get better every day, not in games, in training sessions. It starts there, if I am not good at training today, I'm not going to be happy with myself. I will only think about how I can do better tomorrow.

"When I put in all the work in training, then it becomes easier for me at games. I am thankful to God because I still have time. I really need to work hard, every season it gets more and more difficult. It's not easy for me but, like I said, I believe my best is yet to come.

"I do everything possible to give myself a chance to put myself in the best possible situation, you know, to be successful," he says.


At Mumbai City, it is imperative for him to be in his best shape. There is no dearth of attacking options for Lobera with star signings like Adam Le Fondre, Hugo Boumous and Cy Goddard, and that for some players could be a worrying thing. Ogbeche, however, feels that it can only help him deliver better performances.

"I think the more you have better players around you, the better you're going to be. That's been the case with me for years now. And I think I'm only going to get better this season. I am going to be better because of my teammates around me, they're going to make me better.

"And I always look at myself like somebody who has to make it to make his teammates. If I am able to do that, I will be much better than what I was last season or season before. Having Adam (Le Fondre) is good for us. Having Boumous is good for us. Same with Amrinder (Singh).

"Amrinder has always made me better when I have played against him. But if I had to choose I would not want to play against him. I regard him as the best goalkeeper in this country. So yeah, having him as a teammate is also fantastic for me.

"What I feel is, if I can do well against these players in training, what's it going to be when I get to the field? We all are trying to push each other. My aim is to push all of us along. We are not rivals, we all go in the same direction. We have to get better every day so when the games come, when the season starts, we, as a team, not individuals — as a team, we have to be at the top level," the talismanic forward makes it clear.


So with a team like this, with Le Fondre, Boumous, Ahmed Jahouh, Fall and others, are Mumbai one of the strongest in the ISL? One of the title contenders? Ogbeche considers the question carefully, and for a second, there's a glimpse of a hard edge underneath the otherwise cheerful tone.

"Listen, when you compare us to the likes of Bengaluru FC, or FC Goa or ATK Mohun Bagan... these are teams that have their cards that haven't changed much. We are almost 90 per cent new. In reality, these teams are ahead of us. That's my point of view," he says.

"So we are going to work hard, extra hard, and we hope to be able to compete with these teams. We have a lot of desire to compete, so we are going to take it one step at a time. The first step is making it to the playoffs.

"And during the league, we hope that there won't be a lot of difference between us and these three teams. I know we are good players, we are good people, but we cannot change the fact that we are all new. We don't have a lot of time.

"A successful season for us, I think would be to end up among the top four," Ogbeche signs off.

Mumbai City begin their new journey, their new era under coach Lobera and under the City Group umbrella, on 21st November, 2020 against Ogbeche's old team, NorthEast United.

Also read: ISL: How Mumbai City FC could line up under Sergio Lobera

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