The Mumbai City captain opens up on returning to Indian football, the impact of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, captaining the Islanders and more.

Plying his trade for the second time around in the Indian Super League (ISL), Lucian Goian has emerged as a leadership figure in the Mumbai City dressing room. Even after having the added responsibility of leading the side this season. the defender has been one of  the brightest lights fpr an Islanders team that has had a mixed bag of a season.

Talking about numbers, Goian has the highest number of interceptions and the highest number of tackles in the league. Khel Now’s Mumbai Correspondents Shivam Tiwari and Sabin Castelino recently caught up with the Romanian for an exclusive interview in which he talks about coming back to Indian football, playing under manager Alexandre Guimaraes, captaining the side and much more.

As aforementioned, this is Lucian Goian’s second straight season in the ISL for Mumbai and he is among the few to return to the metropolis club, who saw a host of their overseas stars from the previous campaign including the likes of Matias Defederico and Diego Forlan amongst others, choosing not to do so .

Guimaraes played a big role in Goian’s return

Elaborating on what motivated him to come back Goian said, “Last season I had a great time here. The coach was happy about our performance and working again with Guimaraes is a pleasure. I trusted his project as a coach and as a person. So, many factors contributed to my return back to Mumbai.”

Reflecting on how the team has coped with the loss of the illustrious names and the re-building phase the Romanian continued, “It was difficult. The players you mentioned are good players and I knew that the players who would come to replace them would also have good quality. I trusted that we can build again that strong group like last year and I think this was our strongest point. Last year, we were a good group, we were a good family with quality players.”

It is always a tough job to lead a side and an even tougher one to lead a side that was unlucky not to win the title even after finishing at the top of the table heading into the playoffs last season. Speaking about shouldering the added responsibilility of the armband the defender asserted that he was excited to take on the challlenge.

“I think I have led the team well so far. I am very happy about the trust that was put on me to lead the team. I’m feeling very proud of it like any other captain would be proud of his team. I try to give them and try to push them to give their 100% on the pitch. Together we are working hard and the results are coming.”

Mumbai City have had an inconsistent season and are currently sixth, five points off their next opponents FC Goa who occupy the final playoffs spot. However, given that they were robbed of their stars, they have done a commendable job to be in and around the top four mix, on which Goian opined, “I think we had a good part of the season. I think we still can do better and our game can be better.”

He also added, “This is very important for us. Before the season started we met just one month before. Only 3-4 players were here from the previous season and it was not easy. As time passed we became stronger and despite the losses in the last two games everybody’s confident that we can achieve the playoffs. We have to do better than last year.”

Mumbai has a bunch of young and experienced players, the former perhaps a tad bit more. However, Goian emphasized that they were happy with the overall balance of the team.

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“Yes, we have some experienced players and some young players. They are getting the coach’s message and our message very well,” The Mumbai captain said before adding, “They try to learn every time, we help them. Also, the young players are doing good. Some experienced players have to be kept in good shape and have to be trained well. If you train well, you will do well in the game.”

The loss at the hands of eventual champions ATK in last season’s playoffs seems to be a scar that is yet to heal. Goian remembers every single detail of the game. He recollected, “Last year we finished first on the table, it was a good performance and not an easy one. But, as I said we had a good season and in the sem-ifinals we were unlucky. We were unlucky because Diego (Forlan) didn’t play the second leg and everybody knows he is a good player and a great leader on the pitch.”

He added, “We were also unlucky because we missed some good opportunities in the second home game. I remember the opportunity Sunil (Chhetri) had to score just before ten minutes from the end. Had he scored for sure the result would have been different. We deserved to play the final at least, but this is football.”

In a season where almost every other team is playing with a different manager, it looks like Mumbai City have an advantage in having retained the services of Guimaraes. The duo also continues their long on-field relationship that stretches back to their time in China. Goian himself is a fan of the Costa Rican and of his understanding of Indian football.

Khel Now 1 on 1 with Lucian Goian

“It was good for us because he knows everything about Indian football. He knows the style, he knows most of the players in the ISL. If it was a new coach it would have been difficult. But, he knew what he was going to face and so it was an advantage for us. Also, he knew some of the players from last season, it was easier for the new players to adapt as we wanted to build a strong team. I think it was an important factor.”

This year the number of  Indians in the starting XI has increased to six. Goian personally believes this would help the national side in the future. “Yes, probably this rule changed and we want to progress in Indian football. Last year, I saw the national team improving and doing better, going up in the FIFA rankings and it means it is a successful change.”

There is a notion that the games this season are down on pace and intensity, but the Mumbai skipper begged to differ. “I think I didn’t see this. I don’t think there is any change. The season being long it helps more because you have more time to practice. You have more time to correct things that are to be corrected. Last year, we played every 3-4 days and we didn’t have much time to practice and so I think it is a good change.”

India recently hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup. It brought a lot of Indian football fans to the stadium. Goian iterated the importance of bringing the fans to the stadium and making them interested in the game. “My opinion is that to bring kids closer to football you have to give them something. The ISL is improving. Last year, marquee players, international big names with lots of trophies won like the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League were playing here,” he explained.

He added, “Fans saw them playing on TV and now they are seeing them play live in India. The U-17 World Cup was a success because to bring kids to the stadium you have to give them an example. We all are trying to be an example for them to bring them close to football. Football is the most beautiful game in my opinion. As I was a kid watching footballers play from my hometown, I dreamed of being like them. So, I think every kid needs motivation.”