A lot has changed in the span of 12 months for Mumbai City FC central midfielder Rowllin Borges. From having narrowly missed out on a playoff berth last February, the Goa-born footballer, just two nights ago, led his side into its first Indian Super League (ISL) final. “It still feels amazing...the feeling is amazing,” says a smiling Borges, reflecting on his sudden death penalty at the end of an absorbing second leg semifinal against FC Goa.
After the City Football Group (CFG) makeover, the club now has an air of inevitability surrounding it in the top division. And, Borges is benefitting from it. He is now playing alongside some of the best footballers in the country and is an ISL League Winners' Shield winner. He is likely to be playing in the AFC Champions League group stage next year but, crucially, is enjoying playing football the ‘Lobera way’.
“It’s the style I prefer to play in,” said Borges, referring to head coach Sergio Lobera’s possession-oriented football. “I have evolved a lot, especially with my passing and helping my team going forward and in the attacking third.”
Under Jorge Costa last season, Mumbai focussed on maintaining its shape and discipline off the ball, rather than asserting itself with the ball. At the end of the league stage, Mumbai ranked last in the passing stats with 6077 passes and had an average ball possession of 48 per cent across 18 matches. Under Lobera, Mumbai ranked first in the league stage for passes (9739) and second in average possession (57%) after 20 games.
A year ago, he was playing against Lobera's Ahmed Jahouh, widely considered the best central midfielder in the league at FC Goa. Jahouh topped the passing charts with 1279 passes, and Borges was another 24 rungs and 534 passes behind the Moroccan. Now, he plays alongside him and football seems so much easier for Borges. In the 2020-21 season, he is ranked third with 1072 passes, and is only behind Goa’s Edu Bedia and Jahouh.
“I was a big fan of him [Jahouh] when I used to play against him. I still am. It’s a dream for me to play alongside him. It makes the role a little easy. Even if you don’t have a good day, if you have someone like Jahouh besides you, it increases your motivation and confidence,” Borges spoke of his teammate with whom he forms an ideal central midfield partnership at Mumbai.
If Jahouh provides the cover in front of defence with his niggly fouls, Borges provides the legs and energy in midfield. Jahouh leads the way in tackles (64) and fouls (165), while Borges breaks up play with his interceptions (55). Jahouh possesses the passing range to turn a defensive move into attack with a flick of his right boot, while the six-foot Borges prances forward with his gangly legs from midfield to provide the numerical advantage in attacking passages of play.
Looking ahead to the playoffs final against ATK Mohun Bagan, Borges identified the attacking triumvirate Roy Krishna, Williams, and Manvir Singh as the biggest threats. But the focus will still be more on what Mumbai does, than what the opposition can do.
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“For him [Lobera], the plan is simple. How we play and how we execute these plans. That’s how we go. No matter the game, be it a league fixture or a final, we go and play the Lobera style. We do less video analysis on others and more on us. It’s only about us in Lobera’s philosophy. He only tries to correct us and improve us,” said the India international with 33 caps.
It was Mohun Bagan, which Borges and Mumbai City pipped on head-to-head record to win the ISL Shield on the final day of the league stage. The dramatic turnaround has provided Mumbai with the belief for the playoffs.
“The boys are ready. The momentum in the team has changed after the first final we played against ATKMB. The boys are really confident and we are looking forward to the final,” he said.
For Borges, the ISL Shield triumph and the win over Goa are the standout memories from the season, but he wants to add one more to the list. “What’s done is done. We have the last final to go and I want to help the team win the cup.”
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