"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" goes the old adage - something that Mumbai City seem to have taken to their heart, having recruited former FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera as their new head coach.
The Islanders parted ways with Portuguese head coach Jorge Costa at the end of the last Indian Super League (ISL) season after failing to get to the play-offs by a whisker. Despite the disappointment, Costa departs after making an impact at the club.
Costa brought a measure of solidity to the team and made them strong competitors on the field when he took over the team in 2018. He led them to the play-offs in his very first season, which was only the second time Mumbai had managed to reach that stage. In his second season, he still managed to keep Mumbai competitive despite suffering from injury issues to some of his key players.
Costa's Mumbai City had a reputation for being defensively strong and lethal on the counter-attack. With a shrewd game plan on his hand, Costa's teams always churned out results when it mattered most to them. And against big teams in the league, they always turned up. In fact, Costa's Mumbai City is the first team to do a league double over Bengaluru FC in the ISL and they haven't lost to them in two years.
But one team against whom Costa and Mumbai City always had trouble was Sergio Lobera's FC Goa. In fact, Mumbai's game plan always went for a toss when up against the rampaging Gaurs.
Lobera's free-flowing, attacking-minded football was the anti-thesis to what Costa advocated and ideally should have produced a compelling fight over the many encounters the teams have had. But Mumbai City invariably lost the plot against Sergio Lobera over the last two seasons.
In Costa's first season, when Mumbai City finished third in the league table, they lost to the Gaurs 5-0 away from home (a result which saw Costa lambast his players in an extraordinary rant after the game) and then were beaten 2-0 at home. The Islanders were then paired against Gaurs in the play-offs. However, in the very first leg, Lobera's Goa blew Mumbai City out of the tournament with a terrific 5-1 win, rendering the second leg, which Mumbai won 1-0, insignificant.
The story remained the same in the 2019-20 season as well. Costa's Mumbai City continued to struggle against Lobera. They were beaten 4-2 at home and then ended up conceding five (2-5) away from home.
In six matches between them, Lobera's Goa pumped 21 goals past Costa's Mumbai City. A criminal record for a coach who prides himself on his teams' defensive organisation and solidity. However, one has to note that it was just an aberration for Costa who managed to stifle almost every other ISL teams.
However, now Mumbai City have opted to bring in his very nemesis to succeed him. Provided Lobera gets his transfers right, Mumbai City fans can start to enjoy the very style of football that has been their nightmare in the recent past.
That is not to say Lobera guarantees silverware, something Mumbai City are yet to achieve in their brief history. Yes, the Spaniard was a major reason behind FC Goa winning the League Winner's Shield this season and the Super Cup last season. But the fact remains that despite an all-conquering, expansive stye of football, Lobera is yet to win the ISL, coming up short in crunch knockout games.
If it was a two-legged tie against Chennaiyin FC in his very first season where the team scored just one goal over two games, it was the final against Bengaluru in the 2018-19 season. In both ties, Lobera's free-flowing football was stopped by two sides with a solid game plan in defence. And then they took advantage of the holes in Goa's backline, which invariably pop up as a result of their focus on attacking football.
With Costa leaving behind a legacy of a strong defence, Lobera might do well imbibe some of the Portuguese's quality as he looks to script a new chapter in both Mumbai City's and his story.