The Islanders came up short in the playoffs last season for the second time in their history.
Mumbai City FC have arguably been one of the perennial underachievers in the ISL’s five-year history. Having failed to make the final even once, they have twice bowed out of the playoffs. On the other two occasions, they finished on the penultimate spot in the table and in sixth place once.
They have had the services of some very prominent names such as Sunil Chhetri, Nicolas Anelka and Diego Forlan, but somehow the inability to deliver consistently on the field has come back to bite the club in the past half a decade.
So, the appointment of Jorge Costa in August 2018 was met with huge aplomb, considering the master tactician that he is known to be. Costa didn’t disappoint entirely, as Mumbai City made it to the semis for only the second time in their history last season. However, an embarrassingly shambolic defeat against FC Goa in the first leg of the tie at home meant that there was no way back.
The upcoming season is going to be quite interesting for the franchise. They can’t rely on another sub-standard campaign. It is pretty much a make-or-break year for them and Costa will have to bring his A-game on to the table in order to win that elusive first title.
But, is he the right man to take the club forward?
However, his managerial career has seen quite a lot of changes, as he has notably failed to settle at a particular club for a long period of time. Starting from early 2007, Costa had managed 11 clubs before joining the Islanders last year.
His last title victory as a tactician was back in 2011/12, when he won the Liga 1 with Romanian outfit CFR Cluj. After that, he has taken over eight clubs, including MCFC, with no title success.
One has to wonder, with so many people raving about his tactical expertise, why has the Portuguese been unable to translate that into silverware?
Tenure at Mumbai City FC:
Last season, the Islanders won only a single match less than eventual champions Bengaluru FC in the league stage. In addition to that, they even went on a nine-game unbeaten streak, which is what in hindsight propelled their qualification for the semi-finals, eventually.
One of his major areas of success was working around a fixed, stringent transfer budget and using his good relationships and connections developed with various players over the years, to lure them to Mumbai for an arguably efficient transfer fee.
Impressive traits of Jorge Costa
The former FC Porto captain is generally viewed as a pragmatic manager who believes in a strong defensive unit and builds the team’s attack from the back. Though, Mumbai’s style of play wasn’t exactly pleasing to the eye last time around, they still managed to churn out victories by tactically outclassing their opponents and that too on a consistent basis.
They lacked flair in the offensive department, but backed by robust, tenacious midfielders, they always found a way to notch a goal or two, before gradually absorbing the pressure from the opposition and gleefully seeing the game out.
Costa is a very practical person as well; and, that maybe helps him to think sensibly enough to find a quick fix solution during the course of the game, when his options to find the back of the net are dwindling. He moved Modou Sougou to an unfamiliar centre forward position last season and the Senegalese international repaid the faith by scoring 12 goals in 18 matches.
Hence, the fact that Costa is astute enough to work successfully with limited resources makes him a formidable candidate for Mumbai City.
What holds him back?
Ahead of that much-celebrated nine-match unbeaten run for Mumbai though, was a humiliating 5-0 defeat against FC Goa in their fourth match of the season.
Now, the same franchise again scuppered their hopes of making it to the final by handing them a 5-1 drubbing in the first 90 minutes of the two-legged semi-final encounter. There has to be a pattern to these losses you might ask?
Well, Goa were undoubtedly the team that played the most fantastically fluid brand of football, something that captured the imagination of the masses throughout the course of the season. They were well-trained to unlock rigidly constructed backlines and were wily enough to cause misery by plundering goals for fun.
Costa’s seemingly one-dimensional approach towards the game was there to see on both occasions and that does explain the fact that, if he wishes to survive and succeed ahead with MCFC, there have to be more ideas, plans and tactics in place so as to not succumb and surrender the way they did against the runner-ups of last season.
Because, despite his flaws, Costa is a shrewd enough tactician to ensure that the Mumbai side would attain consistency in at least qualifying for the semis this time too. They have bolstered their squad with some depth to back their heead coach as well. However, to not repeat their mistakes from the past is what separates the champions from the rest of the lot. If Mumbai and Costa harber hopes of holding that ISL trophy aloft next campaign, they need to win those crucial moments when the stakes are high and not run out of ideas and options.