Mumbai City FC last season took huge strides in the Indian Super League as they went on to become the champions and also claimed the league winner's shield. Bringing in someone like Sergio Lobera has helped the Islanders in abundance. The Spaniard brought some of his known warriors to Mumbai from Goa and together they formed a great team. But things have changed course a lot in the last few months and now the Mumbai based side is all set for their defending season. Can they make history?
The Lobera era ends
The tables have turned in a few months as Sergio Lobera is now in the past for the reigning ISL champions. The Spaniard shockingly stepped down as head coach and has left India to join a City Football Group project. In came English tactician Des Buckingham, a young tactician who has excelled as a coach at Melbourne City. Buckingham completed the A-League double with Melbourne last season as an assistant coach and is ready to take over the reins at Mumbai for the upcoming season.
The news of Lobera leaving came as a big jolt for the Mumbai fans, players and the entire Indian football circuit in general. But people are hopeful that Buckingham can live up to his predecessor. However, when he joined the club, he only had a couple of months to get used to new conditions, players and understand the new culture. SO it will be a monumental task for him to pull a season where the Islanders can defend their crown. A lot of it depends on the players and well and even there Mumbai City has made some tweaks.
Departure of Adam Le Fondre
Adam Le Fondre has returned to Sydney FC after a successful loan stint at Mumbai City. Therefore the Islanders have snapped up former FC Goa man Igor Angulo. The Spaniard netted 14 goals last season and became the highest goalscorer in the league. The Islanders will hope that his rich vein of goalscoring form in the Mumbai sky blue jersey.
The club has made some changes, especially on the foreign front. While Hugo Boumous, CY Goddard and Bartholomew Ogbeche have left the club, Brazil duo of Cassinho and Ygor Catatau has joined the club along with former Odisha FC midfielder Bradden Inman. Cassinho is someone who will look to take up the role left behind by Boumous, whereas Catatau will look to compete with Angulo to spearhead the Mumbai forward line. Lastly, Inman's quality is not unknown to Buckingham as he spent his best days in the A-League. But his experience in the ISL has not been great till now. However, his technical ability and versatility to play in a lot of attacking positions make him a very useful prospect for any coach in the ISL.
Balanced squad depth
Among domestic signing, the biggest of the lot has to be snapping up Apuia Ralte from NorthEast United. The dynamic youngster will bring in a lot of control and composure in the middle of the park for Mumbai City. He will probably combine with Ahmed Jahouh at the base of midfield and will have to control the tempo of the game, something which is very important in Buckingham's system. Other than that the Islanders have bolstered their defence by bringing in local boy, Rahul Bheke and former Gokulam fullback Naocha Huidrom Singh. Lastly, Amrinder Singh has left to join ATK Mohun Bagan and Mohammad Nawaz has left Goa to join the Islanders.
It looks like a well-balanced squad with different players bringing in different skillsets. However, it will be interesting to see if players like Catatau and Cassinho can live up to the challenge or not. They are replacing proven ISL players like Boumous and Ogbeche. The duo was very crucial to Mumbai's title challenge last season. Despite making sudden appearances from the bench last season, Ogbeche finished with eight goals and was the second-highest goalscorer for the Islanders last season. Whereas Boumous may not have had his best outing last time, but his presence in the middle and his ability to cut through defences always makes him a very deadly prospect.
Both the players have proven their worth in ISL and therefore the pressure on Cassinho and Catatau is very high. It will be interesting to see how Buckingham unleashes the Brazilian duo and fits them in his desired system. The Islanders will need them to step up and only then they can hope of retaining their ISL title.
Absence of Santana
Another major concern from last season will be the absence of Hernan Santana. The versatile Spaniard was probably one of the most consistent players for Mumbai City FC. He with his exceptional passing range and vision initiated buildups from the back and also provided much-needed cover for his partner Mourtada Fall. The Islanders have not picked anyone to replace him in defence and that is surely a worrying sign. They have stacked their team with flamboyant midfielders and forwards but have not made much of an effort to sure up their defence.
India international Rahul Bheke has joined his local side and he will mostly take up that role left by Santana. But Bheke over the last couple of years have not been that consistent for Bengaluru or even for the national team, especially when he plays as a centre back. So it will be a huge risk for the Islanders. Also if there's an injury to Fall, Bucking will have to opt for an all Indian backline, which again is not ideal. So the balance in defence is not evident and that can come back to haunt the Islanders and their dreams of a title defence.
Overall the positives outweigh the negatives and Mumbai City are an exceptional team. They have a head coach with a lot of potentials and a roster full of talent. Now if the players and gaffer work in unison, they do have a shot at replicating last season's laurels. But it will get more challenging this season and it will be interesting to see how the Englishman performs on his maiden stint in the ISL.