Mumbai City FC manager Jorge Costa thinks his team can't compete with other clubs in the Indian Super League when it comes spending. According to him, Mumbai City's budget is the second or third worst in the league. He also thought, last year, the difference in the quality among teams was not much, but that's not the case anymore this season. Other teams " and he especially mentioned four, Bengaluru FC, FC Goa, ATK, and Kerala Blasters " will go hard this time around and are favourites for the playoffs. To an extent, Costa is right when he spoke about the money, but Mumbai City FC have enough in their ranks to make it to the top four. In fact, the team can go two steps better than it ever did in the league and become champions.
Costa did not give a glowing assessment of his team during the club's media day a few days back. Yes, he spoke about how he wants to do better than last season, when the team made it to the semi-finals. "Our budget this time is maybe the second or third worst. But I will not hide behind the budget. This is my team and all the 25 players in the squad are chosen by me. This year, the responsibility of the team is all mine so we have to do our best. And our best is trying to do better than last season," Costa said.
It appeared as if he was keeping expectations in check. Maybe he's just protecting his team. Maybe it's a management trick, which he might have picked up from Jose Mourinho, who he observed closely as a player. Or maybe, he's just an 'I-don't-want-to-count-my-chickens-before -they-hatch' kind of person.
Costa's pessimism can also be related to the fact that he lost some of his key players from last season. The likes of Arnold Issoko, Rafael Bastos, Matias Mirabaje and Lucian Goian have all left the club. Last season, Mumbai started on a slow note, but Costa turned the team's form around when he changed their style " from playing out from the back to paying a counter-attacking style. Once they were settled into a philosophy, the team thrived, going through an unbeaten run of nine matches, which ensured their spot in the playoffs. While last season's important players will be missing in action this time, credit should be given to Mumbai City FC for signing a few promising names and continuing with Costa with another year at least.
The right balance
The balance of the Mumbai City FC is the team's USP and it could prove to be their asset. Modou Sougou, who proved himself to be a superb goal-scorer, is back for his second season with the team. Sougou was the second-highest goal-scorer in the league last season, having netted 12 times in 18 matches. Costa will once again be heavily dependent on the Portuguese player when it comes to scoring goals. Since Issoko will not be with the team this season, his possible replacement in the front will be Amine Chermiti of Tunisia. The 31-year-old forward promises creativity and can also chip in with goals. Before coming to India, Chermiti has plied his trade in leagues like Bundesliga, where he played for Hertha Berlin and also featured for Swiss club FC Zurich. There's plenty of experience under his name so if he can adjust to the his new surroundings quickly then Mumbai can boast of a lethal attack. There's also the option of using another foreigner in the front. Diego Carlos played for FC Pune City for two seasons before Mumbai City got him.
Mumbai have also signed Serge Kevyn from Gabon, and Alen Deory will continue his stint with the club for the second straight year. However, both forwards are not expected to start in the beginning so they will look to make an impact whenever they get the opportunity.
The midfield is where things get more interesting for the club. Captain Paulo Machado impressed in his first season and he will be sure starter this time also. Costa also has the options of Raynier Fernandes, Mohammed Rafique and another Tunisian Mohamed Larbi. The former two have played for Mumbai before under Costa so their familiarity with the team is a plus. But the most exciting player in the team's midfield is the new signing Rowllin Borges.
Borges, an India international, had a fantastic season for NorthEast United FC. Under Eelco Schattorie, Borges performed exceedingly well as a box-to-box midfielder. It's not his forte because Borges first came to limelight playing as a defensive midfielder. Costa must be delighted with his new signing. Apart from the fact that he's a quality player in the midfield, Borges' work-rate sets him apart. His fitness levels have improved drastically over the years and it shows when he plays for the national side and the club. He's the exactly the kind of player Costa would need for his compact-while-defending and counter-attacking philosophy.
At the back, Mumbai have purchased centre-back Mato Grgic from NorthEast as a direct replacement Goian. The Croatian was a crucial part of Schattorie's team's run to the semis, helping the side in keeping eight clean sheets in the campaign. He could either partner Pratik Chaudhari or Sarthak Golui while Costa could also use talented youngster Anwar Ali. Subhasish Bose is a firm choice at left-back while either Souvik Chakraborty or Hmingthanmawia will take up a regular spot at right-back. Amrinder Singh, probably India's second best goalkeeper after Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, will be the first-choice 'keeper for Mumbai for the third straight season.
If there's a weakness in the squad, it has to be their defence. Not that it is worrying in nature, but there are question marks over the quality. While Grgic's form is crucial, the Indian defenders have to step up and take responsibility. Costa takes pride in his team defending well so he would not want his defenders to leak many goals.
Last season, Costa took time to settle but once Mumbai found their groove, the results started going in their way. The team knows what it takes to perform under pressure and make a comeback. Despite losing some of the important players, the team management's pre-season business was right on the mark, at least on paper. And they have a good enough manager who proved his calibre last season. Their budget might not be huge but a team's success doesn't depend on money alone.