When Mumbai City roped in Ahmed Jahouh from FC Goa amongst a host of other players before the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season, many thought it was Sergio Lobera trying to operate from within his comfort zone. Having players like Hugo Boumous, Mandar Rao and Mourtada Fall as the spine of your team is of course a luxury that not many coaches can have. But without the eccentric Moroccan pulling the strings in the middle of the park, Lobera’s best laid plans would not be coming to fruition this early into the season.
In #HeroISL history:
Most passes – ✅
Most tackles – ✅
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) October 22, 2020
This isn’t to say that the 32-year-old is without his vices. Like we saw against Northeast United, his ill-timed tackle on Khassa Camara was unbecoming of a player of his stature. He went for a similar lunge last night against Matti Steinmann, but was lucky that the SC East Bengal midfielder wasn’t seriously injured.
There is this other aspect of his game that Lobera would want to cut out too wherein he tries to try a difficult pass, sometimes even inside his own penalty area. As outrageous as it may sound, on one occasion last night he tried to nutmeg an East Bengal attacker on the edge of his own box and lost the ball. On another, he tried carrying the ball past two patrolling attackers, again inside his own penalty area, waiting for a touch to come and a foul to be given. Although the touch came from Steinmann, it managed to take the ball off him as well which led to a shot at goal from Anthony Pilkington.
Yet, it is Jahouh’s very same ability on the ball that makes him such a prized possession in an already stellar Mumbai City midfield. He is the absolute best in the ISL when it comes to drawing opposition midfielders and attackers towards him and then pinging a long ball to release his own attackers. You’d be forgiven if you were a Mumbai fan and felt slightly agitated every time he held the ball a little too long. But there always seems to be a method to his madness.
Playing in a position that he does, Jahouh is mostly required to circulate possession and act as the springboard for most of the Islanders’ attacks. And that is where he comes into his own. With the passing range that he has, he can easily find his teammates 40, 50 or even 70 yards further forward with an incisive pass that will be weighted impeccably. What he lacks in pace he usually makes up with his understanding of the game and vision. The fact that he has Rowlin Borges by his side to mop up loose balls and break opposition moves also contributes immensely to the freedom with which he plays.
We all saw how his sending off against NorthEast dismantled the Mumbai midfield. Against FC Goa too, his absence was felt throughout but Lobera’s men somehow came away with all three points. But last night against SC East Bengal was another reminder of what he brings to a side that has flair players all around. The free-kick with the outside of his right foot that led to the third goal was pure genius and is reaffirmation of why Mumbai need him in the middle to unlock the potential of the Hugo Boumouses and the Adam Le Fondres of this world. If he can keep his temperament and discipline under check, this could be a season where Sergio Lobera’s Blue army brush aside all obstacles and reach the pinnacle of football in India.