The 2017-18 season of the Hero Indian Super League has been a mixed bag for the Islanders so far. The 4-0 victory over Delhi Dynamos meant Alexandre Guimaraes’ side won back-to-back games for the first time this season and a welcome boost going into the new year and an away trip to Jamshedpur. With an eventful year gone by, the gaffer looks back at the defining moments of 2017 and what he expects from 2018.
On continuing with Mumbai City FC:
I knew it was the decision I wanted to make. The club and the board ensured that I had all the possible means to rebuild the squad for the 2017-18 season and I’m happy that they’ve shown faith in my methods and me. The fact that the co-owners, the CEO and the entire organization are behind me reaffirms that I’ve made the right decision to continue with this fantastic club.
On the retention of six core players:
We knew that with the draft happening this season, we needed a core and build a team around it. We wanted a core who knew me and who understood my style of football, my style of thinking and leadership. The board understood the need to retain this core and we moved and signed three of the best players from last season – Lucian Goian, Gerson Vieira and Leo Costa.
I’ve emphasized on the importance of a spine on the pitch. We had secured a solid defender and two key midfielders. With Amrinder and Sehnaj, it was crucial we got them back to complete this spine. They were regulars last season and they were fantastic. It was a similar case with Rakesh too – he is a great prospect, he trained well and when his chance came, he performed well. Having them also helped our new recruits settle in and learn from them what this club is all about.
On the trip to India in July and the draft:
I was looking forward to the trip and coming back to Mumbai! For me, the ISL draft was a whole new experience. In my long career, it was the first time that I was a part of a draft procedure. Along with my staff, I think we did a great job in the draft and we got the players we wanted. It was a good day at the office for us.
On Balwant Singh:
Balwant was our biggest coup in the draft! We knew we wanted him first. Believe me, a lot of teams wanted him. And his form now only reaffirms our decision, doesn’t it? He has shown impeccable attitude and conduct in training and off the pitch as well. And most importantly, he justifies his playing time. I’m happy he’s with us and on our side.
On the new-look ISL:
For us, it’s been a good season so far. When it’s a longer season, you need a good set up and I am extremely happy with what we have. And to top it off, we have a fantastic bunch of individuals.
About the ISL as a tournament, yes it’s a little different. Not only because of the number of teams or the duration, but also the quality of games this season. Last season, we saw way too many draws in the league. ATK had a lot of draws but yet they got into the top 4 and eventually became champions. This season, we’re seeing more results in the games for all the teams. This changes the dynamic of the tournament and of the table. We’re looking forward to the change.
On the quality of Indian footballers:
One of the key objectives of the ISL was to develop Indian players and Indian football in a more advanced and a modern manner. If the league believes that after three years they are now ready to grow, then I’d go with their call. And irrespective of that, I’m extremely happy with the players I have and as far as the Indian players are concerned, they’re exceptional. I hold them in extremely high regard. They always want to learn and they always want to win. Having this sort of a mindset will help Indian football reach a different level.
On the standout bits so far:
In our pre-season camp, we struck a cord and we learnt a lot about the boys. It was a good environment. Unfortunately, we had a few issues with injuries among other things. Needless to say, it hurt us a bit. But on a positive front, I was happy I could have some of the brightest Indian talents like Abinash Ruidas, Davinder Singh, Pranjal Bhumij and Rakesh Oram in the squad. They’ve done really well and taken every chance they’ve gotten so far.
From my experience last season, the league table doesn’t show any picture until the second-to-last or the last game week. So coming into the pretty much the second phase of the tournament, we nearly have the whole squad fit and in good spirits and I’m happy about it.
On the expectations from 2018:
When we started the season, our sole objective was, and still is, to make this team competitive and take it to the next level. After a good 2016-17 season and halfway through this season, Mumbai City FC are definitely one of the better and more respected teams in the league. And this is great for the development of the club, the board and for the city of Mumbai as well.
For 2018, our primary targets remain the same – qualify for the playoffs and play good, attacking and entertaining football. It would be huge if we can achieve this feat for the second season running and so far we’ve shown that we have the quality and the chance to do it.
On the upcoming trip to Jamshedpur:
When I first heard about this addition to our fixture calendar, I was looking forward to this new experience. Of course, it’s a different kind of a journey I’ll admit that, but a new experience nevertheless.
We’re going to be up against a very tough side, a very solid side who also, like us, have a chance to make it to the top 4. This fixture won’t be easy, by any means, but the boys are focused. We’ve had a good couple of weeks now getting two very good results and the only thing on our minds is to keep the winning momentum going. Three points is what we’re aiming to come back with.