These two sides are the most financially robust teams in Indian football right now.

In the next few months, two Indian Super League (ISL) sides are representing India in AFC competitions, in Mumbai City and ATK Mohun Bagan. Mumbai City will play in the AFC Champions League 2022, while ATKMB will take part in the AFC Cup 2021. Gokulam Kerala, the 2020-21 I-League champions, will also play in the AFC Cup but in 2022.

Quality-wise, both competitions are still very strong. That means it’ll take a mammoth effort for any Indian club to do well in both competitions. Realistically, Mumbai City and ATK Mohun Bagan currently look the likeliest clubs to become the country’s first AFC title winner.

Backed by rich, ambitious owners, both clubs follow a very smart, winning model. They possess some of the country’s best players. Both clubs have had quality foreigners in their ranks over the years, who are capable of thriving in Asian competitions. So who among them will eventually succeed in the race to win Asian silverware? Let’s have a look.

Analysing ATK Mohun Bagan’s Chances – Uttiyo Sarkar

Building for the future

A core element to the Mariners’ squad-building is that they are trying to ensure a brighter future for the club. The Mariners are not only signing players, who will make an immediate impact and bring quick success, but they are also packing the squad with younger blood.

ATK Mohun Bagan already has some talented young guns in their squad. The likes of Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Sumit Rathi and Sk Sahil will only get better. Even Hugo Boumous was a strategic signing. The Mariners signed him on a five-year contract knowing that he will soon reach his prime years.

The Kolkata-based club have the right blend of experienced campaigners with a winning mentality alongside budding youngsters. As long as they keep making quality foreigner additions and acquire the best young talents in India, their scope of winning an AFC title looks significant.

Top-level ambition

ATK Mohun Bagan Indian Super League
The Mariners’ management is eyeing Asian success

It was not too long ago when ATK Mohun Bagan owner Sanjeev Goenka insisted that his dream is for the Mariners to win the AFC Cup. Under Goenka’s ownership, ATK won three ISL titles in six seasons. After the merger, ATK Mohun Bagan reached the ISL final in the 2020-21 season but their focus is now winning at the continent level.

With that in mind, the Mariners are investing in prime talent every year going forward. It might take some time, but they will eventually find the perfect combination, which can thrive in Asia.

Bengaluru FC is a perfect example of that. The JSW-owned Bengaluru FC soared to the AFC Cup final in 2015 and are among the most successful teams in Indian football recently. With ATK Mohun Bagan similarly backed in the market, their chance of tasting continental glory looks highly possible.

Internationally experienced domestic talent

ATK Mohun Bagan are blessed with some of India’s best talents in the squad now. They also possess immense experience within the domestic camp as a result. The likes of Sandesh Jhingan, Amrinder Singh, Pritam Kotal, Subashish Bose are regulars in the Indian national team’s travels. Manvir Singh, Liston Colaco and Lenny Rodrigues are also well adept against International opposition.

The Mariners’ strong domestic core is a reason, why they could stand strong in AFC competitions. The majority of their Indian stars know how difficult games against such opponents are and can cope with their intensity. As a result, they are better prepared than most Indian clubs to deal with the unique threat of AFC competitions. If the Indian core clicks properly for the Mariners in the AFC competitions, they could soon churn up a real surprise.

Analysing Mumbai City’s chances – Joseph Biswas

The reach of City Football Group

Mumbai City’s co-owners are one of the biggest and accomplished institutions in world football. With 11 clubs across five different continents, the City Football Group is never short on talent supply. Their financial might also make Mumbai City FC one of the likeliest Indian clubs, who can taste success in the continental stage. In the 2020-21 season, with City Football Group’s help, Mumbai City signed Bartholomew Ogbeche, Hugo Boumous and Adam le Fondre. As a result, Mumbai City won the ISL titles (league and playoffs).

Mumbai City also signed Cy Goddard on loan making it a star-studded squad for ISL 2020-21. Although Goddard came from a different club, transferring players from one league to another within their ownership have been a common feature. Mumbai City can, therefore, find impressive foreigners from the CFG umbrella play from them next season. It will boost their title charge in AFC club competitions.

Attacking style of play

Mumbai City FC Sergio Lobera
En-route to winning ISL 2020-21, Sergio Lobera’s side scored 35 goals

Finish the opponent with a possession-based attacking brand of football. This has been the City Football Group’s motto for all of their 11 clubs. In the Premier League, Manchester City have been a prime example of this style of play. Mumbai City adopted a similar approach in the 2020-21 season. It resulted in Sergio Lobera’s side scoring 35 goals, four more than the next best ISL team. Mumbai City averaged 1.75 goals every game. They also conceded only 18 times, the second-best record in the league.

This approach will find them in good stead in the AFC cup competitions where outmatching the opponents’ attack is key to winning games. FC Goa, most recently, adopted an opposite approach in the AFC Champions League. They sat deep and played on the counter. Goa were knocked out of the competition from the group stage without winning a game. The gulf in the quality of the players was also palpable..

Mumbai City have the cream of best overseas talents at their disposal, courtesy of the City Football Group. In Rowllin Borges, Raynier Fernandes and Jackichand Singh, the club also have a number of top Indian players. Others like Bipin Singh have shown they can excel and jump their weight in the right setup and alongside top players. Lobera is also a coach, who has brought the best of both foreign and domestic talents. He has the experience of coaching Barcelona youth teams and certainly has the ability to make Mumbai City FC, Asian champions.

Top-notch Recruitment

There is no doubt that with the City Football Group on board, Mumbai City FC have access to the world’s best scouts, player data and player information. The City Football Group have one of the widest scouting networks in world football and attracts talents from every corner of the world. Not just Indian talents, Mumbai City can sign the world’s finest talents to fill their foreign quota.

With the scouting information available and City Football Group to back them financially, Mumbai City FC can now sign players from top European clubs. Players coming from European, Australian clubs are expected to be much superior to foreigners from other nations. Last season, Mumbai City FC broke the Indian transfer record when they whisked away Hugo Boumous from FC Goa in whooping a ₹ 1.76 Crore.

The club can repeat a similar tactic this season and sign the best talents available in the Indian market in addition to bringing top overseas stars.

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