Back in October 2019, Odisha FC travelled to the Mumbai Football Arena hoping to underline their credentials in the ISL following two successive defeats. Mumbai City FC, on the other hand, represented an outfit that had remained spotless on the road, against Chennaiyin FC and the Kerala Blasters and were looking at establishing the Arena as their fortress.
Yet, a 4-2 reverse meant that the Islanders’ aspirations were nipped in a bud, at least momentarily. To make matters worse, they succumbed to another chastening defeat against FC Goa at the same venue, thereby throwing their season into turmoil.
To put things into perspective, Mumbai, at that juncture, had been rid of Mato Grgic’s services, courtesy an injury the Croatian suffered during the early exchanges of the campaign. Unsurprisingly, the likes of Pratik Chaudhari and Sarthak Golui were cast as the Islanders’ defensive protagonists, despite the pair signing for the club only weeks earlier.
Fortunately, for Mumbai though, the duo impressed almost instantly, even when the side kept shipping in goals. Pratik, in particular, adapted to Jorge Costa’s system seamlessly, meaning that he has since propelled himself as one of the Islanders’ most vital defensive cogs.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the central defender opened up on what prompted him to switch bases in the off-season and how he had gone about his business during the formative stages of his Mumbai City FC career.
“It has been a pleasure to have been a part of so many clubs and I have only gained experience during my stints at those teams. But, when the opportunity to represent Mumbai came about, I took it because it is always more special to play for your home town.”
He further added,
“At the start, the three of us [Mato and Sarthak], we gelled brilliantly and we formed a good relationship. I knew that they were amazing players but they are also such great human beings that we became comfortable in each other’s company swiftly.”
In fact, the camaraderie the trio portrayed formed an important part of the Islanders’ mid-season resurgence, wherein they started keeping things tight at the back and were able to translate their performances into something more tangible.
When quizzed on how the rear-guard became more watertight as the season progressed, Pratik replied,
The first few games was good, as was the pre-season. We were unbeaten. But, the games against Goa and Odisha were a real eye opener for us. It actually helped us understand where we were lacking and since then, we started working more on our defensive aspects.”
Consequently, the Islanders embarked on a run between the 17th of January and the 6th of February, wherein they conceded just a couple of goals, which incidentally were spot-kicks against Hyderabad FC and Jamshedpur FC.
However, a week later, Mumbai City FC clashed swords with their arch nemesis, FC Goa and were on the wrong end of a result that threatened to derail and undo the hard yards the club had put in prior to it.
Pratik though, maintained that it was imperative that the side took the positives from the aforementioned encounter while also concentrating on the facets that went pear-shaped at Fatorda, thereby enabling themselves to be better prepared for their next fixture, against Chennaiyin FC on the 21st of February.
The Marina Machans, courtesy a stellar recent run, now pose the biggest threat to the Islanders’ qualification ambitions. In fact, the contest on Friday has morphed into a virtual quarter-final, with the winner guaranteeing itself a berth in the top four.
Inevitably, one couldn’t help but ask Pratik how he intended to approach the game, both tactically and mentally, considering the gargantuan stakes attached to the match. He quipped,
I am completely charged up for the game. It is not a do or die situation, rather it is a do or do situation for us. Even the boys can’t wait to get onto the pitch on Friday and we have been preparing well. Obviously, I can’t divulge the plans that we have hatched to contain players like Crivellaro and Valskis but you’ll get to see it on the 21st. We have done our homework before our biggest exam.
Additionally, the defender went a step further and issued a rallying call for the Islanders’ faithful, asking them to turn up in huge numbers for Mumbai’s final league contest.
It would be a great boost if the fans can come out in large numbers [on Friday]. I am sure they will enjoy this game, which promises to be a cracker. I would urge all the fans to come out and support Mumbai and it would help us and push us to achieve our objectives. They are our 12th man and it is a big boost for us when we play in Mumbai.
Thus, rather fittingly, the Islanders’ entire season now hinges on a stretch of 90 minutes of football at the Arena, a prospect which, at times, seemed improbable, considering their initial downturn and subsequent upturn in form.
Yet, that’s the space Mumbai currently find themselves in, wherein even the slightest of misjudgments could have the greatest of implications. However, in light of Pratik’s candid conversation, they seem ready to thwart whatever obstacles Chennayin FC might throw at them.
After all, footballing logic reckons that home form mediates the oscillation between the mesmerizing and the mediocre during campaigns. And, while the Islanders started off on an extremely patchy note in October, they now boast the possibility of extinguishing the horrors of bidding adieu to the competition in front of their own fans.
And, if they manage to do so, those crushing defeats against FC Goa and Odisha FC would briskly slip into oblivion, wouldn’t it?