It was a cold January night, this reporter was waiting to board a flight from Hyderabad airport. Suddenly his phone rang, “(Sergio) Lobera has just been sacked by FC Goa,” said the voice on the other side of the phone.
Moments later the entire Indian football fraternity was talking about it. And why not? A coach who had built arguably the best team in the Indian Super League (ISL), the one which played the most beautiful football than any other team in the country, a team that was coasting at the top of the table, and yet somewhere, something had gone wrong.
To this day, FC Goa maintain that it was for ‘non-footballing’ reasons, which is a given obviously. However, the real reason is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Indian football. Some people say that the Spaniard got greedy and was asking for too much money, others argue that the team management did not agree with him on certain philosophies, including the addition of a seventh foreigner in the squad.
Anyway, Lobera returned to Spain, Goa finished on top of the league to seal the prestigious AFC Champions League spot but failed to get their hands on the elusive title. Few months later, after several link ups, Lobera reportedly had advanced talks with Mumbai City FC. The contract signing was delayed a little but eventually, Lobera got Mumbai to onboard his full support team, comprising of Jesus Tato and Manuel Sayabera, from Goa.
It all seemed like water under the bridge, right? Wrong. Don’t you see it? Look at what Lobera has been doing at Mumbai ever since joining, which without City Football Group’s (CFG) backing would never have been possible. He roped in Goa’s captain, their most loyal player Mandar Rao Desai. Then Ahmed Jahouh, and Mourtada Fall followed and now, midfield lynchpin Hugo Boumous is also set to make the move. For Boumous, who had two years left on his contract at Goa, the Islanders have to reportedly shell out a whopping Rs 1.6 crore.
It’s not just about the signings, it’s the aggression with which Mumbai are going about their business that gives the telling sign. Lobera is not just back in the ISL, he is back because he has unfinished business.
“It’s no secret when things went downhill between Lobera and FC Goa. But when he was leaving, vengeance was always on his mind and he said he won’t leave the ISL, he will come back to finish his former club,” a source close to the development told The Bridge.
“He believes he built something here, and why would he leave something unfinished. That’s why he is getting all his old players back. Of course, City Group’s involvement meant he knew that he would get the backing he needed and that was a big reason behind his reason to join Mumbai City.”
When the CFG entered the ISL, they made clear their intentions of dominating Indian football. “City Football Group is committed to the future of football in India and to the potential for Mumbai City FC within that future. We are very much looking forward to playing an active role in Mumbai City FC’s fan and local communities, and working with our co-owners to further develop the club as quickly as possible,” CFG’s chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, had said.
Now, the way Mumbai’s team is taking shape, everyone is looking forward to how they perform. The Islanders are already being considered as one of the genuine title contenders along with usual suspects.
Goa, on the other hand, have been rebuilding under new coach Juan Ferrando. Their management believe that while they have lost some key members, they can sign better players before the season kicks off and be prepared for the upcoming campaign.
It will be interesting to see how the two teams face off when football resumes after the break.