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The overhaul of players and staff at Mumbai City FC during the off season saw the club recruit a familiar face in Indian football, with Sergio Lobera taking over the reigns as the club’s new Head Coach.
The Spaniard will be looking to add the elusive Hero Indian Super League trophy to the club's cabinet, and has expressed his full faith in the current balance and set-up of the squad ahead of the much-anticipated 2020-21 edition of the league.
Speaking ahead of Mumbai City’s season opener against NorthEast United which takes place on Saturday, Lobera addressed the media over a virtual press conference from the club’s bio-secure bubble in Goa on Tuesday afternoon. "I am very happy to be back here in India, and very excited to be a part of the Mumbai City family. We have a great challenge ahead of us here, and with the current COVID-19 situation and living in the bio-bubble, I want such challenges because it makes us work closely and collectively in the best way,” he said.
“We have started training well in these past few weeks, and I am delighted to be working with this group of players who have been great in training. I am excited to see what each one of our players can offer to us, and if we can get our ideas through to them, it’ll be a great season for us and for our fans,” added the 43-year-old.
Having been a former assistant and a youth coach at FC Barcelona, Lobera is known to follow an attractive brand of football, and the Head Coach reckons he is aiming to bring the same brand to Mumbai City. “You know what my idea of playing is, and I followed the same at three seasons at FC Goa. It is important for me that spectators enjoy the football that we play – of course winning the matches is important, but I also believe in having my team play an attacking brand of football where we are also able to create a balance. I want my team to be able to play beautiful, possession-based football, and also close down teams to quickly win back possession,” said the Spaniard.
When asked about how the City Football Group has helped him settle at the club, and what kind of support they provide, Lobera said he has been fortunate to have received help pertaining to a lot of areas. “The benefits of having the CFG advise us are plenty - the advice we get and the support is very important for me. I think there are a lot of people with great football knowledge at CFG, and as a coach, you can improve when you work with such people. I speak everyday with different departments, who provided us with a lot of things including analysis, and the different learnings from their 10 teams around the world, especially lessons learnt under these unique circumstances,” expressed the Head Coach.
“We are working together with big ambitions and also keeping our long-term plans in mind. In my 25-year career, I have worked at some great clubs including Barcelona, but I can tell you that I have never worked before in this way and it is amazing to be working with Mumbai City and CFG," added Lobera.
Asked to comment on the make-up of the squad, Lobera expressed satisfaction at being able to assemble a good squad ahead of the 2020/21 season. “I am very happy with the team I have. I think we have special players and I am trying to get the players to play in our style and hopefully we can perform when the season gets underway. In my team, I obviously want players who want to win everything, but my focus is on playing beautiful football, with the final objective being - to win the matches,” said Lobera.
Also commenting on having the option of five substitutes in a game, Lobera said he was pleased that he can influence more matches through the substitutions. “In my opinion, it is good to have five substitutes. It means when you can do more changes, you can influence and change the direction of the game. It is a good option."
Lobera also added that his focus will also be on improving the Indian players. “We need to work in all the directions. We have some amazing players who have had great careers, but the most important is to improve the level of the Indian players. For me, as coach, I need help of foreign players to improve the Indian players. It’s impossible to win a trophy if the Indian players aren't at the level, and it is also impossible to win when your foreign players do not gel with the Indian players. So as the coach, I need my foreign players to play a big role on and off the pitch."
Adding that playing without their supporters is difficult, Lobera said, “We still feel they are here. Today, with social media and with regular interaction with our fans, we do feel closer to them and hopefully we can make them happy with our performances."
Lobera was also appreciative of ISL’s decision to have more teams this season. He said, “It’s good if the ISL improving a lot in the last seasons. It’s good playing new teams in the league. It means we need to play against 10 teams and with all the teams having good players."
Dismissing talks of his team being the favourites, Lobera said, “In my opinion, it is going to be the most difficult and competitive season till now. I want to respect all teams, and obviously if I say we are favourites, maybe it’s not respecting the other teams and maybe it is not true. We have some great teams who have great players and have won the titles. Our dream is to work hard and to try to finish in the best position that is possible, and the best position is number one. We need to keep working and at the end of the season, we will see.”
Signing off, Lobera added that he reckons the season opener against NorthEast United “will be a difficult game”, but his team “needs to manage this situation and try to prepare in the best way possible and start strongly”.