Underachievers to contenders: La Masia’s Sergio Lobera transforms Mumbai City

A swift transfer into the opponent’s field, the attacker introduced down, penalty. The wheels had began to show in favour of Mumbai City FC, after an opening-round loss. Now, early within the marketing campaign, in opposition to East Bengal, they had been poised to attain their second of the match. But among the many gamers that had up to now labored effectively collectively, the query of who will take the spot-kick posed a possible rift.

Hugo Boumous, a proficient Frenchman who was judged the most effective participant of the Indian Super League (ISL) final 12 months, had gained the penalty and was eager on taking it. But English striker Adam Le Fondre was the staff’s designated penalty taker. An on-pitch argument was on the horizon. But a single phrase from the sidelines by supervisor Sergio Lobera settled the talk.

“Adam!” was the message that rang loud via the empty GMC Stadium in Bambolim. At as soon as Boumous stepped apart and Le Fondre slotted residence the staff’s second in a 3-0 win.

The single-word command is testimony to Lobera’s type.

He’s a quiet analyst, talking solely when wanted – in apply or on recreation day. But no matter he says is heard. After all, Mumbai City’s new coach has a stellar repute that precedes him.

For the previous three seasons of India’s marquee soccer league, he guided FC Goa to a second-place end within the ISL in 2019, and the Super Cup title later that 12 months. He’d set his staff as much as show a gripping, possession-based attacking type of play that made the membership probably the most engaging groups to observe. But after setting the groundwork for the staff to change into the primary Indian membership to qualify for the Asian Champions League, Lobera was curiously axed.

What that did do for the Spaniard although, was open the door for him to City Football Group’s (homeowners of Manchester City and the Mumbai membership) newest acquisition. Since the primary season of the ISL in 2014, Mumbai have been rated as perennial underachievers. But now, they’ve a 43-year-old supervisor who has spent most of his life teaching. And halfway via the season, he’s already made the table-topping Mumbai City outfit the staff to beat.

Sergio Lobera throughout a coaching session with Mumbai City gamers. (ISL)

Born in Zaragoza in North-eastern Spain, Lobera was by no means away from the game, so he says. Remarkably although, as an alternative of striving to change into a footballer, he set on a path to change into a coach whereas nonetheless an adolescent.

“I loved to play football. But I loved to teach as well,” he says. “I became the youngest licensed coach in Spain when I was 21. But I had actually started training to become a coach when I was 14. The good thing for me was I had a lot of time to train and to become a coach. When you’re a player and you’ve finished your career, if you want to become a coach you have to start training for it and maybe you don’t have enough time to do it. That’s what has worked for me.”

By 1997, he was roped in by Barcelona to educate at their famed La Masia academy – what he calls the “big opportunity in (his) career.”

He noticed the early developments of gamers like Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi. And later he’d be a senior coach to then apprentice Pep Guardiola – who now heads Manchester City within the Premier League – and was assistant coach to the late Tito Vilanova within the first staff in 2012. He by no means noticed himself change into head coach of the Spanish heavyweights, nonetheless.

“After eight years at Barcelona (over multiple stints), I decided I wanted to leave,” he says. “I wanted some new experiences which I could get in new circumstances, at a new club in a different place. That was the way I knew I could grow as a coach. I needed new challenges and maybe get out of my comfort zone, which is where I was at Barcelona. So I had to make that decision.”

READ | Mumbai City, ISL and City Football Group: A story of many cities

Moving away from Spain introduced him in touch with Boumous, throughout their time at Moroccan membership Moghreb Tetouan. The 25-year-old Frenchman would later observe the Spaniard to FC Goa, and now is likely one of the mainstays within the Mumbai midfield.

“When I first met (Lobera), I noticed the professionalism and the interesting style of play he wanted, based on possession and attack,” Boumous says.

“His strongest quality is his management of the squad. He knows how to handle all the players and make them responsible even if they aren’t playing. On the other hand, he gives the players a lot of freedom on the pitch and gives them the confidence to express their quality. The results speak for him since he’s here in India. He had a good bunch of players, Indian or foreigner, but he knew how to make them improve and how to find a good balance.”

Lobera has discovered that equilibrium at Mumbai City. After 9 matches, the staff has scored 16 targets – greater than every other staff – and conceded simply 4 – another than ATK Mohun Bagan.

Mumbai, who’ve impressed in bits within the earlier seasons, appear like real contenders this season and Lobera appears to be the lacking piece within the puzzle for the franchise. It was evident on Tuesday, when Mumbai took on 2019 champions Bengaluru, a staff Lobera had misplaced to 4 instances and one simply as soon as within the earlier 5 clashes.

But his new staff romped residence to a commanding 3-1 win: an announcement of intent by a staff brimming with confidence below a coach who has reworked them.

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