The Mumbai City boss shared his thoughts after topping the ISL table and qualifying for the AFC Champions League.
Mumbai City FC qualified to the AFC Champions League through their convincing 2-0 victory against ATK Mohun Bagan in the final showdown of the Indian Super League (ISL) league stages. Sergio Lobera and his men were struck in a precarious situation a week ago with the Mariners holding a five-point advantage over them.
However, they sparked a remarkable comeback with a 6-1 win against Odisha FC and then a comprehensive sweep over ATKMB. Mourtada Fall and Bartholomew Ogbeche scored a goal apiece in the first half, as the team saw off the rest of the game with some terrific grit to secure the three points.
Ambition achieved with Mumbai City FC?
City Football Group acquired the controlling rights of the Islanders with a clear vigour to make Mumbai City the best club in the country. The objective was achieved in their very first full campaign. Commenting on achieving the vision of CFG, Lobera said, “I am very happy because there are a lot of people who have done a big effort. Mumbai City, City Football Group have done a big effort to give to us all we need to work a better environment as possible. Now, it’s a moment to enjoy, it’s a moment to analyze the big things we achieved.”
He added, “Mumbai City, our fans, the supporters, all people in Mumbai, our families also, it’s a moment to remember a lot of things during these months. It’s a moment to enjoy because I think my players deserve to win this trophy and finally hopefully we can achieve another one.”
The seasoned tactician acknowledged the contributions of the club officials and backroom staff. He also expressed gratitude and gratefulness towards being a part of the CFG project.
“We have a big challenge. I know when I come here, this is a big project, ambitious project and we have done the effort to achieve our target. Finally, we are champions. It is amazing for us, amazing for the club, for the City Football Group. To work as a coach with City Football Group is the best thing that is possible to happen because there are a lot of people with a big knowledge behind us to try to help to us to achieve our targets. It means a lot because playing Champions League next season is amazing,” Lobera conveyed.
Belief in squad
Mumbai were stuck in a tricky spot not too long ago. They conceded a healthy lead that they initially maintained over the Mariners. The team’s fortunes were not in their hands after the loss against Jamshedpur FC. They had to claim six points from their final two encounters to stand any chance to qualify to the continental championship.
Reasserting his belief in his squad, Sergio Lobera explained, “I always believe in my players. Because every day I am working with them and I know I can believe in these players. Because they are warriors, they are ambitious players, they are amazing persons. We are a very strong team on the pitch, but we are a family off the pitch. Finally, I think we were very strong mentally. We had a difficult situation when we lose one game against Jamshedpur and not depend on us this situation. But, we are a strong team, we are an ambitious team and I think we deserve to finish top of the table this season.”
Importance of senior leaders
Mumbai had adopted a pragmatic approach against Antonio Habas’ team and excelled due to their tenacious defensive shape. The team pressed as a whole, defended in numbers and hardly gave the Mariners any space to work with in and around the box.
Asked to comment on the importance of senior players like Ogbeche, Adam le Fondre, Fall and Amrinder Singh in the team, the Spaniard reiterated, “I think it’s a collective job. You know I don’t like to speak about individuals because the individuals shine in a very good team and I think the big effort every player has done is amazing.”
He further said, “Pranjal (Bhumij) is possible to play the first game. I think it’s a gift for the players everyday to come to the training ground, to the training session with a smile and they don’t have options to play. It’s Pranjal, but there are a lot of players in a similar situation and they deserve to enjoy this trophy and to play in the Asian Champions (League) next season.”
Thoughts on winning League Winners’ Shield
Sergio Lobera was instrumental in FC Goa’s ascent to the top of the standings in ISL 2019-20. However, he was dismissed from the job a few games before the conclusion of the league campaign. This time around, he was successful in capping off the journey with Mumbai City.
“Obviously, it’s very important. I think I have a winning mentality. I am here with Mumbai City, the City Football Group because I think we could be the winning team. Now is a very good moment for me. I feel it’s the second shield in a row for me. This is my feeling and I am very happy about this,” the 44-year-old quipped.
However, the tactician reiterated the need to win the ISL title in the coming weeks too. Lobera added, “This season is not over. We need to be continuously ambitious and now we need to enjoy, let’s enjoy about the playoffs and we want to win the trophy.”
Facing FC Goa in the last four
Despite Sunday’s triumph, Lobera’s challenges are only set to compound. Mumbai will face the Spaniard’s former employers Goa in the semi-finals. The Gaurs’ ex-head coach stated, “I think in this moment every team is a difficult team. We are in a difficult situation because we have done a big effort all teams, not only Mumbai City. (It’s) going to be a very good game. I think we are playing against a very good team and hopefully it’s possible to win the semi-final.”