The champagne had been popped, the cake had been cut and the League Winners Shield had been secured. Sergio Lobera had only nine words to say - “In 12 days, I want the trophy here. Okay?”
Twelve days later, the decibel levels went through the roof as Lobera’s Mumbai City FC became the first club to win the Indian Super League (ISL) title and the League Winners Shield.
Sporting a buttoned-up collared t-shirt and a buzz cut, Lobera’s calculated approach saw him achieve unparalleled success this season. Life has indeed come a full circle for the Spaniard - he’s now lifted two titles on the same Goan shores that he was asked to leave last season.
“I am very proud. It is special for me to win the trophy and the Shield in Goa. I won the Shield in the training ground [GMC Athletic Stadium, Bambolim] I was using for the last three years and won the trophy in the stadium [Fatorda Stadium] we were playing in. These are very special circumstances, for me personally. You know I was working in Goa for the last three years and to now to win the trophy with Mumbai City FC is very special for me. Our dreams have become true and it was an amazing season,” Lobera said on Monday.
“The celebration we had with everyone yesterday...when you can see the trophy and the Shield with us – that is an image I will never forget,” he added.
Being cooped up in a bio-bubble was far from easy, but Lobera sought to make the most of it. “Living in the bubble for more than five months was not easy. It was a big challenge for us and everyone. I wanted to take advantage of this, as a coach, because I have my players for 24 hours. We could have more meetings compared to earlier when we used to train for two hours and then go to our houses,” he said.
The Spaniard, who is the first coach to win the ISL double and the Super Cup, continued that the unwavering support he received from his boys made the difference. “I am lucky because the profile of the persons who I work with is amazing. We are a family on and off the pitch and we showed that. It’s not only about good players, or a very good starting XI, it’s about the group and the positive mentality and attitude of the players coming from the bench as well. It is not easy to accept the coach’s decisions sometimes, everyone has individual targets. My responsibility is to ensure the collective target is met and to maintain a balance between individual targets and the collective target is not easy. But the players and the City Football Group gave me everything I needed.”
He added, “We have two persons [who suffered personal losses], one lost his father and the other lost his mother during the season. They came back to the hotel and lived in quarantine for 14 days and re-joined the team. When we won the title my thoughts were with these people.”
Lobera also stated that defender Amey Ranawade, who has suffered a concussion in the final, was recovering well. “He is fine. He is very happy. The most important thing is health. We can enjoy ourselves knowing that Amey is fit and fine.”
Damian Willoughby, the India CEO of the City Football Group, said they are now looking to implement their plans of developing the youth teams and academy framework.
“Before the investment, we had spent a significant amount of time surveying the overall football landscape and particularly Mumbai City FC. Subsequently, we did further work looking at the playing pyramid that currently exists and how we can look to bolster that and double down our efforts. We want to look at how we can invest in developing our recreational programs, our youth teams, an academy framework and then a potential reserve team that can help us create a pathway for young players to come into our club. These are plans that we are still refining and will look to deploy when we come back into Mumbai,” he said.
He is intent on bringing about a system that would have youngsters identify themselves with the club. ”All successful clubs across the world have a track record in developing young players and that is our ambition. It is a more efficient and economical way to build a club and the players have a long routed and passionate relationship with the club that goes beyond just playing. We are excited to deploy these plans and build a much more robust system that has players playing more games, more diverse exposure, and implementing the City Football Group way. We also aim to develop coaches that can deliver that style to young players consistently,” he said.