Alexandre Guimaraes walked into the Mumbai job in 2016 after the side had endured a train wreck of a season in 2015. The fact that Nicolas Anelka was manager that year tells you everything you need to know. The temperamental striker with a history of following out with everybody was appointed player manager and proceeded to fall out with assistant coach, Oscar Bruzon (who left the club), star player, Andre Moritz (who left the club) and Indian national team captain, Sunil Chhetri (who did not have the option of leaving the club). It was an unusual appointment given Anelka’s history. His only previous experience in management was at Shanghai Shenhua in 2012, again as player manager. It lasted all of two weeks.
The experienced Guimaraes was just what the doctor ordered come 2016. The Costa Rican had guided his national side to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup on pragmatic principles and he employed something similar at Mumbai. The side was built on solid organization and a strong spine from back to front. Goalkeepers, Roberto Volpato and Amrinder Singh, when available from AFC Cup duty with Bengaluru FC were terrific. Lucian Goian was immense at centre back, and led the league with 67 tackles. Krisztian Vadocz was a physical presence in midfield and Diego Forlan was irreplaceable up front. Mumbai would not win a single game when he was not available. The side would complete their league engagements conceding only 8 goals and topped the table for the first time in their existence. Arguably, only Forlan’s suspension for the return leg at home in the semi-finals kept them from winning the title that season.
Guimaraes expected to build on that solid season last year but the player draft and moves by Vadocz and Forlan to the Hong Kong Premier League meant that he could not get the continuity he craved for with the squad. They could have done better in attack, but that was not the problem area last season. Everton Santos, Balwant Singh, Achille Emana and Thiago Santos all chipped in with goals and assists. It was their redoubtable defence line, still including Amrinder and Goian, that struggled. Gerson Vieira and Sehnaj Singh did not offer the same control in midfield that was seen in the previous season and the team conceded 29 times, which was a massive swing in numbers.
Mumbai still retained the physicality inherent in Guimaraes sides and led the league on tackles and fouls committed per game. They were second on duels and clearances. At the midway stage of the season, they were still in the mix, but a poor run of six defeats in nine games, including four on the bounce at home, put paid to their hopes and they ended the season seventh in the table.
New manager, Jorge Costa, is in Guimaraes’ mould and that might prove beneficial. Anwar Ali, who was missed last season after a stellar 2016, has been brought back in central defence. Subhasish Bose is a great signing and Matias Mirabaje will provide quality in midfield, but Mumbai have only retained seven players from last season’s roster and it remains to be seen how that will affect the side’s performances this season.
A couple of Jose Mourinho’s ex-players in Nuno Espirito Santo and Frank Lampard are making waves this season as managers. It remains to be seen if Jorge, who captained Mourinho’s Champions League winning Porto side, can do the same with the Islanders.
Last season’s finish: Seventh
FlyingGoalie Prediction For This Season: Eighth