The Costa Rican has a significantly depleted squad at his disposal but his experience in Indian football will help him grind out results.
After being labelled non-performers due to abysmal seasons in the first two editions of the Hero ISL, The General guided the franchise to new heights by shrewdly picking up his players and building a formidable defence which could not be scaled coupled with a goal-scoring and entertaining attack.
Alexandre Guimarães is one of the most experienced coaches the Indian Super League has ever seen. He has the experience of representing Costa Rica thrice at the FIFA World Cup, in 1990 as a player and in 2002 and 2006 as coach. In all three times, his team were the underdogs, something which he had in common with his latest team at Mumbai City FC.
Alexandre was handed down a squad of quality but disorganised youngsters in the 2016 edition, along with a few experienced campaigners who hadn’t shined in the previous edition and also had the added responsibility to see that quality foreigners were signed, along the lines of his footballing philosophy.
He moved swiftly and signed some good foreign imports like Matias Defederico and Lucian Goian who strengthened the core of the team. When it came to the marquee signing, he chose to go with a player who still had life in his legs over a celebrity with no gameplay by signing Diego Forlan, who proved his worth by scoring 5 goals and being the leader of the pack.
Alexandre proved that his team could get results under almost all circumstances as long as most players of his preferred 18 were available. Along with all this attacking flair, he also added a strong defensive organisation to his team. He would play Lucian at the heart of the defence and relied on Sehnaj Singh’s determined efforts to screen the back four.
But over the whole of last season, two peculiar things could be noticed of The General’s team, they never backed down under the highest pressure and the fact that they almost never have had a completely fit squad didn’t seem to bother them. Sometimes it feels that if Alexandre was given an I-League team, he still would have topped the ISL table.
But this time around, the Indian Super League has been a different nut to crack. Two new teams have been introduced in the form of Jamshedpur FC and Bengaluru FC, the latter already a two-time I-league winner. In order to level the playing for the new entrants, the ISL-Draft was introduced. This meant that all teams, including Alex’s set team of winners, had to start from absolute zero.
Sunil Chhetri captained the Mumbai City FC side last season
Mumbai City FC lost many of its key players including Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh as Bengaluru FC who were allowed to retain them. Mumbai made two important retentions which allowed them to at least have some stability. Amrinder was signed on a 1.2 crore contract and has played a very important part in this season already. The other was Alexandre Guimarães himself.
Alexandre’s retention allowed Mumbai to continue with their philosophical roots and also enabled them to attract some of the foreigners from last season who performed extremely well. They shrewdly retained a few of the Indians from last season like Sehnaj Singh and brought in a lot of young guns who have begun moulding themselves as per Alex’s Philosophy.
Guimarães is known as the pragmatist and has been vocal about it in almost all his press conferences. His go-to words are to ‘adapt’ and to ‘adjust’ and he has had to do it throughout last season as well as the current one. Such is the level of pragmatism that Alexandre employs, that even though this year his squad is at 50% capacity of his last year’s team, he still is churning out positive results and has managed to keep the team in the hunt.
Pragmatism is often a hated word in the world of football, but Guimarães adds his own flavour to it with a constant flow of counter-attacking despite playing a deep-lying defence and midfield. He has relied heavily on the toughness of Sehnaj in the midfield, the accuracy of tackles of Goian in defence and the foolhardy will of Achille Emana to rush on ahead with the ball towards the opposition goal.
Also in spite of carrying injuries, there are two of his men who have not let it come in the way. He has often subbed them off and on and used them to invigorate the team and both have scored goals for the team, Balwant Singh and Thiago Santos. Balwant is still carrying a niggle in the thigh and Thiago suffered an ACL injury during his time in Brazil and hasn’t yet fully recovered.
These two go a long way to show how Guimarães’ philosophy can influence to give their all for the team. In the recent days, another appreciatable aspect of Mumbai City’s team is the passion that exudes from the players who play under the crest.
There are some players like club captain Lucian Goian, who are just pure quality in their area of expertise and could have been playing at much higher levels, but once they wear the emblem of Mumbai City, they give it their all on the field and this feeling comes straight from the dugout, where The General is constantly out voicing his opponents and encouraging his team.
Even the Fans of this city have responded well to Guimarães and his boys and have turned out in large numbers. There was even an instance against Chennaiyin FC when Emana stood to take a penalty and the roof was vibrating with the cheer of “Mumbai, Mumbai”, instilling fear into the opposition.
To conclude, it can be easily said that Mumbai City may not have the resources in the bag as of now but have enthralled all with a witty show of pragmatic counter-attacking football that has stolen hearts of the Mumbaikars and has led to the Fortress AKA Mumbai Football Arena to reverberate with joy. If Mumbai continues with this form, they are sure to challenge for a spot in the top 4 as they seem to be the ones for the long run.