The defender also lavished praise on manager Alexandre Guimaraes who has masterminded Mumbai City’s revival in ISL 3…

With the business end of another Indian Super League season now upon us, Mumbai City FC sit primed at the top of the table with 19 points from 12 games. The Mumbai outfit’s exploits in ISL 3 are a far cry from their below par displays in the first two campaigns. One man who has been at the heart of the revival for the club from the metropolis is experienced Romanian centre-back Lucian Goian. The defender spoke exclusive with Khel Now Editor Mrunal Nakashe, opening up on a variety of subjects including Mumbai’s season so far, his experience of playing in India and more. Excerpts.

Q. You sit first in the table and have two more home games remaining. How do you reflect on the season so far?

A-I think we deserve to be first at this moment. The previous game is a sign of that. It also showed that we are a strong team and we can beat anybody. But the job’s not done yet. We hope to be at the summit after our next two games too.

Q. You started really strongly with two wins and two clean sheets. But, there was a bit of a blip in the next four games before the win in Kolkata. What was discussed in the team during that phase?

A-It was difficult. We’re a new team, a new group of players. It was a challenge for us to keep the same rhythm. Of course it was important to start strongly, which we did. A combination of a little bad luck and injuries to key players was what halted us against Kolkata and away in Kerala. But in the difficult times, we kept going in our run of away games which followed and we got good results.

Q. You have won five games so far this season. Barring one goalfest, all by a margin of 1-0. This shows a lot of defensive solidity which hasn’t been a hallmark of previous Mumbai teams. What’s changed this year?

A-When you think of defensive performances, you only think of the goalkeepers and defenders. But defending is all about teamwork. The midfielders and attackers too track back more often than not and help out at the back too.

The coach has set us up in a very organised way; he likes building his teams from the back. Of course, there are a lot of experienced players here and the young lads are keeping close too. At the end of the day, it’s all about working hard and believing in yourself and your abilities.

Q. You have picked up 12 points on the road which is very good. But the home record has been patchy, two wins, a draw and two defeats. Why the contrast?

A-If you saw our previous game, we scored at the first chance we got and that makes a huge difference. In our game against Pune here at home, we had a lot of chances but we couldn’t convert them. We controlled the game, but the luck was on Pune’s side that night. Our home games against ATK and Goa also show how important is to convert your chances into goals, especially when you have chances aplenty.

The most important thing I believe is getting in front of the goal. Once you get there, you have a high possibility of scoring. Sometimes it’s your day and the luck is on your side, but sometimes it’s not. In our last game, everything went right for us. It was the perfect night.

Q. The team has lots of quality players in attack but you have not scored many goals until the last game. Why? Is this down to a deliberately conservative style of play where you look to take the lead and then sit on it?

A-We never think of shutting up shop or sitting on a one goal lead, no no. We always want to score the second and the third and seal the game. Like they say, attack is the best form of defence. We always want to maintain our result, not just by defending but keeping attacking possession as much as possible.

Q. The team has had a lot of injuries this season. This has meant that the coach has constantly had to change the combination and the shape, especially in the first half of the season. How difficult has it been to adapt as a team?

A-Injuries are never good. But we have a lot of quality and depth in this team. We also have a lot of experienced players in this group, including myself. Injuries and changes in the team are inevitable. We just need to put our head down and play to the best of our abilities, irrespective of who we’re playing with.

After being a starring presence at the back for Mumbai all season the defender also chipped in with a goal against Kerala Blasters.

Q. How has been your experience working with Alexandre Guimaraes?

A-I’ve worked with him before, back in the Chinese Super League. He trusted me enough to ask me to join him here and I had no second thoughts when he called me up. He’s a wonderful person, a fantastic coach and a thorough professional.

He believes in the finer details, he sets us up before each game with every possible detail of the opposition – he’s completely dedicated to this cause, this team and to football. He’s built a great atmosphere and a great team here, a family. I can say it’s the best group of people I’ve played with.

Q. This is your first season in India but you have adapted quickly to become one of the standout players. How has the experience been for you?

A-The experience has been fantastic. I never had a problem adapting here – the process was very quick. I’ve played in China three years ago. The experiences there certainly helped me settle in here quite easily. Moreover, the staff, the coaches, the conditions and the facilities available here are top notch. When a footballer has such fantastic facilities around him, it’s only a matter of giving 110% and playing well. They’ve helped me give my best where it matters the most – on the pitch.

Q. You mentioned you have also played in the Chinese Super League. What are some of the lessons the ISL can learn from China?

Honestly, I don’t think there are any. The ISL is a better organised league than the CSL. The local talent on show here is amazing. The Indian players are real professionals and have one up over the local Chinese players in the CSL in terms of talent and ability. Plus, the amalgamation of the local players and us foreigners here in the ISL is far better than that in the CSL. The Indian players have grown from strength to strength over the last few years and working so closely with their experienced foreign teammates has played a major role. The league here, I feel, is far better and doesn’t have any lessons to learn from the CSL really.

Q. The back four for Mumbai is made up of a lot of Indian players. How has been your experience working with them? What would you say about the level of Indian players in general?

The Indian talent in the ISL is good. There are a lot of great Indian players with exceptional qualities. But for me, it’s never about playing with a local or a foreigner. It doesn’t matter where we come from. Here at Mumbai City, we are a team and we have been working hard together and I believe the results show that.

Q. Thoughts on the returning Bengaluru FC players? Can they give you the edge in the big games at the end of the season and in the playoffs?

Of course. They’re all great players. We missed them for the first 9 games. We would have liked it had they been with us from the start, at the pre season in Dubai. I’ve seen them play for Bengaluru FC and I am happy for them for what they’ve achieved at the AFC Cup.

We all have seen in the last two games what an important cog in the machine Amrinder is. He’s intelligent, he communicates with his defenders and of course, a great shot-stopper. It is a delight to have him and also Sunil, Udanta and Fanai in the squad.

Q. Adding to the list of great defensive performances that you’ve displayed this season, you’ve opened your account with a goal against KBFC in the last game. What was the moment and the feeling like?

Scoring a goal is always a bonus. I’m proud of the fact that i’ve played well on multiple occasions this season including the last game and i’m happy I could score and help the team in a different way than usual. Scoring that goal in front of our fans at home was a fantastic feeling. It was even better because my wife and my son were there too. They’ve supported me through this journey in the ISL and I couldn’t be any happier.

Photo © ISL Media

Exclusive Interview by Khel Now-Content Editor Mrunal Nakashe. A sports buff, he’s also a foreign policy enthusiast and keen North Korea watcher. Mrunal loves gaming, reading, traveling and is a self-confessed Football Manager addict. You can follow him on Twitter.