Mumbai FC had, for a long time been the Stoke City of India. The club you refer to in clichés (though you're unlikely to hear ‘can you do it on a hot Tuesday in Mumbai’), but as defending champions Bengaluru FC have found out in previous seasons, they’re a tough nut to crack.
This season though, things have changed. Having secured all six points from their first two encounters, they are a team flying high. Not only that, they have bought into a new philosophy, a new style of play, a style of play which will bring fans to the stadium.
Under Khalid Jamil, they were a notoriously tough team to beat, a team which hardly allowed any space for the opponents to attack, a team which preferred going direct at every opportunity. Santosh Kashyap (who took over the club for the season) has come in, and instead of breaking down those blocks build by Khalid Jamil, has added to them.
That has enabled his team to play a brand of football, which is quick, counter attacking and effective. It might have gone under the radar with teams like Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan getting maximum points in the first two games too, but it hasn't gone unnoticed by Albert Roca, who praised his opponents ahead of the game against the men from Mumbai.
“Mumbai FC are very different from the teams we have played against so far, they’ve a lot of pace, and they can hurt us”, that coming from a manager who has held positions in football hotbeds like Turkey and Spain is a compliment indeed.
The players too in Santosh Kashyap’s admission have started feeling the difference too, “We are very high on confidence at the moment, and I am very confident in my team too”.
Having managed the likes of Salgaocar, ONGC, Mohun Bagan and Air India, they have a coach competent and shrewd, who knows the game in Indian inside out. "This will be like a ‘championship’ game for us, and we will try to get a positive result, with great respect to Bengaluru FC", he said ahead of the game. A classic move that never gets old.
Mumbai have been the only team in this season of the I-League to have not fielded a single foreign player, “I believe in my Indian players, they’re proving themselves".
"Whatever formation I decide for them, they adapt to it very quickly. So I have full trust, and full confidence in my team. I am passing my knowledge onto them, and they’re doing well”, the former Salgaocar man said.
The transition from one style of football to another isn’t the easiest, even the biggest and best struggle. Jose Mourinho throughout the first three months of the season spoke of the difficulty for his players to transition from Louis van Gaal’s system to his.
Coach Kashyap though, keeps things simple, “I like attacking play, it’s my style, my philosophy. That’s probably why Mumbai FC signed me. But, coaches have different styles”, pausing to add “Attractive and effective”, with a glint in his eye.
The biggest compliment to the new style and system though was paid by Mumbai FC’s Steven Dias, a veteran of Indian football with 51 caps for the National Team. “I am happy that this season I get to play attacking football, I don’t have to think of defending, so I am really enjoying my football”.
“I try to motivate the youngsters, whenever I get the chance, I talk to them. The club is like a family, there are players who have played in the ISL and the Mumbai League, so they’re already very professional” the Mumbai FC captain continued.
This is a sign of a player who knows his role in the squad, and high on confidence. This is a sign of a side high on confidence, with players believing in their coach. Continue the momentum, and they just might do a Leicester come the end of the season.
But, Santosh Kashyap is keeping his feet on the ground, “We are targeting top three this season”, then with a cheeky grin he adds, “First is included in top three”.
Mumbai FC takes on defending champions Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium at 7 p.m today.
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