Since its inaugural edition in 2014, the Indian Super League (ISL) has gone from strength to strength, with the quality of football and fanfare increasing exponentially. In fact, the competitiveness of the tournament has showcased such an upward trajectory that the identity of the semi-finalists usually boils down to the final few fixtures of the league phases.
And, that trend continued last season as well when Chennaiyin FC narrowly pipped Mumbai City FC to make the ISL semi-final. To put things into perspective, the Marina Machans had been languishing at the bottom at the half-way mark, before Owen Coyle mounted a comeback of gargantuan proportions. In the process, the Chennai-based outfit highlighted the thrilling and the competitive nature of the ISL.
Since then, quite a lot of things around the globe have changed, with the novel coronavirus wreaking havoc with everyday life. In sync with those tweaks, a lot of managers in the ISL have also departed for newer pastures while some have switched clubs, with Sergio Lobera being installed at the Mumbai City FC helm.
Mumbai City FC's opening ISL match is against NorthEast United
A few days before the Islanders play their opening 2020-21 ISL encounter against NorthEast United FC, the Spaniard was quick to point out the ebbs and flows the ISL entails and how he expects the upcoming campaign to be the toughest ever.
“In my opinion, this ISL season is going to be more competitive and more difficult than last season. There are very good teams and some very good signings have been made. The sides have made a lot of effort to bring those players and it will be good for all the teams because of the increased competition,” Sergio Lobera remarked.
Having said that, plenty of football enthusiasts have earmarked Mumbai City FC as favourites for the ISL title, courtesy the plethora of talented individuals in their ranks and the fact that they have arguably the most astute manager in the ISL. Sergio Lobera though, was swift in swatting aside those claims, explaining that the Islanders only wanted to concentrate on what they could do best, rather than concerning themselves with things that are out of their control.
“I want to respect all teams in the ISL and I think we need to work a lot and hopefully, we can work in this way and at the end of the season, we can be happy with our jobs. My focus and our dream is to work hard and to try to finish in the best possible position,” he added.
Last term, Mumbai City FC had the wood over the Highlanders, with the former collecting four points out of a possible six. While the Islanders drew 2-2 in Guwahati, the 2018-19 semi-finalists got the better of NorthEast United FC (1-0) at the Mumbai Football Arena. However, Sergio Lobera emphasized that past ISL contests might not play any role when the two sides clash on Saturday, for the past rarely shapes the future.
“I think the past can’t affect the future in football, only the present can. I think it is very important to know the new situation. We have a big challenge but we are ready to embrace it,” the Spaniard commented.
For much of last season, Jorge Costa, the man entrusted with shepherding the Mumbai City FC pack during the 2018-19 and the 2019-20 ISL seasons, talked about the spirit that existed and how that made it possible for his side to fight all odds and nearly end their wait for an ISL crown.
And, Sergio Lobera, just days after taking charge at Mumbai City FC, echoed similar sentiments, stating that the side was not just a football team but a family.
“We are a team but we are a family more importantly. We need to work together in the bubble and it is very vital that the environment is healthy. We have been enjoying a lot of time away from football and it is very important. Obviously, it is a challenge but we have had a lot of help from the CFC and I am very confident and positive about the future. Living in a bubble is not easy but we have to work with what we have. We are privileged people to come to stadiums, to come to training and we need to feel happy. There are bad things and there are good things but I am a positive person,” Sergio Lobera said.
Thus, just a couple of days before Mumbai City FC’s opening ISL game against NorthEast United FC, Sergio Lobera seemed in high spirits and seemed a man who knows his way around the topsy-turvy surroundings of the ISL.
Throughout their sojourn in the ISL, the Islanders have perhaps been slight underachievers, considering the players that have graced Mumbai City FC. Yet, with Sergio Lobera, those things could take a turn for the better, despite the 2020-21 ISL season promising to be more cut-throat than ever.
Published 17 Nov 2020, 16:14 IST