While the champions had solid contingent of foreign players, ATK Mohun Bagan’s seventh foreigner never really delivered for them during the season…
The seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL) is over with Mumbai City being the undisputed champions of India as they won both the League Winners Shield and the ISL title.
Both their titles came after beating second placed ATK Mohun Bagan. While in the final league stage match, the Islanders trumped the Mariners to top the league stage and bag the Shield, in the ISL final once again they got the better of the Kolkata club to bring home the coveted title.
Mumbai City became the first team ever to win both titles in the same season. It was indeed a memorable season for Sergio Lobera’s side who were without a doubt the most dominant side in the competition and for that, the team management deserves utmost credit.
From accumulating a strong squad with a mixture of quality local talent along with a formidable foreign contingent to appointing a coach of Sergio Lobera’ pedigree, the new management of the City Football Group has done a commendable in their very first season of taking charge of the club.
It is no secret that foreigners make a difference in Indian football and this has been the norm for more than two decades. However, at Mumbai, Lobera did manage to bring a few low profile players like Bipin Singh, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy and Amey Ranawade shine.
Signing quality foreign players is essential as much as having a decent bunch of Indian contingent as well. However, foreigners are expected to hit the ground running given that they are at least on paper ‘expected’ to be better than the local players.
And as far as foreign player recruitment is concerned, Mumbai City have been miles apart this season. They have fulfilled the entire criteria of seven foreigners pretty early in the season and each and every foreign player have played a key part at some point in the season for the team.
In the striker’s department, along with recruiting Nigerian forward Bartholomew Ogbeche who had scored 27 goals in the last two seasons of the ISL, they also got hold of English forward Adam Le Fondre who was the second-highest goal scorer (20) in the A-League in 2019-20 season.
Lobera generally plays a lone striker in his preferable 4-2-3-1 formation but the Spanish manager ensured both strikers received enough game time and contributed in key matches. And in some cases, he even started both of them together.
Ogbeche started in only nine matches this season but he featured in every single game. He also scored eight goals and provided three assists. Two of his eight goals came against ATK Mohun Bagan in the league stage and one of his three assists came in the final for Bipin Singh’s winning goal.
Along with Ogbeche, another player who came off the bench in the majority of the matches was Japanese Cy Goddard. The Japanese can play both as a number 10 and as a winger. He scored one goal and provided three assists in the 19 matches he played. Out of those 19, he started in 11 matches.
The fact is that despite coming on from the bench often, Ogbeche and Goddard have been very influential in key games and that has what set them apart from the other teams including second-placed ATK Mohun Bagan.
Rest of the five foreign players – Ahmed Jahouh, Hernan Santana, Hugo Boumous, Adam le Fondre and Mourtada Fall – obviously were starters.
The Mariners have struggled with their seventh foreigners for most of the season. At the beginning of the campaign, they had Australian midfielder Brad Inman in their squad but the former Brisbane Roar man failed to make any impact.
At Bagan, Inman had appeared in only seven matches out of which he started in two games and had hardly any impact. In fact, coach Antonio Lopez Habas was so unhappy with him that in some matches, he had even fielded four foreigners even though Inman was there in the matchday squad.
He was loaned out to Odisha FC in the January transfer window and Marcelinho was brought in on loan from the Kalinga Warriors. The ace Brazilian player initially made some impact as he scored two goals (Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC) in his first three appearances for the Mariners.
But as the season progressed, the Brazilian’s performance graph started to take a dip and his influence was less and less with each passing game. In fact, Marcelinho was benched in the club’s last two matches against NorthEast United in the second leg of the play-offs and against Mumbai in the final.
With Edu Garcia out injured for almost half of the season, ATK Mohun Bagan needed their seventh foreign player to deliver just like how Ogbeche and Goddard filled into the shoes of Hugo Boumous when he was suspended for four matches at the business end of the season, which did not happen.
While it was not the sole reason for Mumbai City’s excellence, it certainly contributed. This also showed how good their recruitment has been. The management trusted Lobera to find players that fit his philosophy and the manager, in return, ensured everyone of his foreign players had a role to play in the season.
Little things like that go a long way in ensuring a successful season and that is exactly what Mumbai City enjoyed.