New coach Sergio Lobera aims to change Mumbai City FC fortunes

New season, new team, new ownership group and a new-look squad—everything about the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) feels fresh for Mumbai City FC and their new head coach Sergio Lobera. “Yes, a lot of new things,” Lobera said in a Zoom chat from Goa. “We need to work a lot because when you need to implement something new, you need more time. And we don’t have time.”

Yet, if there’s one man who knows how to make an immediate impact, it is Lobera. The Spanish coach oversaw a highly-successful FC Goa. He took charge in 2017 and guided them to the ISL semi-finals (2017-18), final (2018-19) and the 2019 Super Cup title. Lobera was sacked towards the end of last season despite Goa sitting at the top of the table due to an internal feud.

The City Football Group (CFG)—it acquired a historic majority stake in Mumbai City last November—pounced on Lobera. Mumbai City have been the league’s perennial underachievers, reaching the play-offs only twice. Lobera has his task cut out; he has to incorporate his FC Goa model in Mumbai City, in a bio-bubble wrapped, curtailed season in Goa without even having a regular pre-season.

“It is a big challenge. The situation is constantly changing—there are guys in quarantine, players coming out of it, some down with injuries. Maybe it’s possible to work with a full squad only three-four days before the first game. It is not easy. But I embrace this not as a problem, but as a challenge.

“My first season with Goa wasn’t the same as the second and the third. You need time to build a team, understand what players need from me and what I need from them as a coach. But this is professional football, and we need to compete from the beginning. We don’t have the luxury of time to improve, so hopefully we can improve while winning,” Lobera said.

Thankfully for Lobera, his brand of attacking football is in line with CFG’s vision for the Mumbai franchise. And thus began hectic purchases filled with star power—the likes of Adam Le Fondre from A-League and Bartholomew Ogbeche from Kerala Blasters. Lobera too brought with him a few key players from his Goa set up—Hugo Boumous, Ahmed Jahouh, Mourtada Fall and Mandar Rao Dessai.

Lobera said the first time he visited Manchester to have a meeting with CFG’s top officials, he instantly knew they were on the same page in terms of the vision for the club. “That was something that had to be very clear before we started working together. As a coach it’s amazing to work with this group—in terms of the support I’ve received it’s been the best. I had been speaking every day with them as we tried to build this team. It’s very important because you don’t have to waste time as a coach to explain exactly what I want and what the players need to try to put in a good performance.”

For one of the most successful coaches in the league with three play-offs appearances to show in three seasons, not having laid his hands on the ISL trophy must feel odd. Lobera hopes to change that, for himself and for Mumbai City.

“My dream is to win the trophy. Our entire Mumbai City family wants that. But we need to focus on things that can make it possible. And hopefully, if we work hard every day, at the end of the season we can do it,” he said.

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