Jorge Costa’s journey with Mumbai City FC last season in the Indian Super League was a story of mixed fortunes. The appointment of the high-profile Portuguese, who previously captained Jose Mourinho’s Porto side to Champions League triumph during the 2003-’04 season, created a huge buzz and excitement.
The Islanders were the last club to sign a manager, leaving Costa and his staff short on time, meaning they had to rush with pre-season preparations before the ISL began.
A remarkable pre-season tour in Thailand followed, where they won four and drew one. To get a better understanding of ISL, Costa spoke to compatriots Helder Postiga and Henrique Sereno while watching a few videos to understand the level of the league. Costa believed his team had it all figured out and ignored the warning signs.
“The preseason was very good, we were winning games in Thailand 3-1, 6-2 and I thought, ‘Wow I have a very good team.’ And when the league began I realised that we were far behind and that we had a lot of work to do,” the Mumbai City boss spoke to a group of journalists in Mumbai.
“We were not so prepared. This was my mistake, I tried to do all the things properly but I was wrong because the level here was much better than what I perceived,” he added.
Results weren’t going the way for Mumbai City during the initial stages of the campaign, and shortly what followed was a 0-5 drubbing against FC Goa served as a hard reality check. That loss sparked a spectacular turnaround as the club rose from the bottom of the table to second place, embarking on a nine-match unbeaten run (longest ever in their history) before securing their place in the top-four.
Once languishing at the bottom of the table, the Mumbai outfit rose to the second spot before sealing their place in the play-offs. Though they eventually went down to FC Goa again in the semi-finals, Costa gained plaudits for his defensive and dynamic system with focus on counter-attacking; building the squad on a shoe-string budget. But at first, it was not a style that he agreed to play.
“I lost three weeks to change some things I started at that time [of the league]. I wanted to play with the ball, build [the play] from behind and we did it in pre-season. If you like it or not, this is another question but the club pays me to have results and we had to change the way we played. The main aspect was understanding what I needed to change and adapt to the club, not the other way around,” the 47-year-old explained.
Costa admits one of the challenges he has faced is keeping the squad together. In a land of diverse cultures and beliefs such as India, he finds it tough to keep all 25 players satisfied.
He added, “How my players think and live, I have experienced that before. It important thing is to have a group. Once you start having groups within the team, they all segregate. You must speak more to the players who don’t play than the ones who do.
“The players who get time are happy. Here is India its not so bad but in Portugal or France, you have 10 or 12 players of different nationalities. Then you have players of different religions and different mindsets. The most difficult thing is to try and have all of them to be focused, happy and play with the same purpose.”
Costa has tipped Bengaluru, Goa, ATK and Kerala Blasters as favourites to reach the top four. But as the team begin their quest for another promising season, they have already put behind last season’s disappointments, including that heart-wrenching semi-final loss to FC Goa. Mumbai City kick-start their campaign with away matches against Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin FC on October 24 and 27 before returning home to host Odisha FC on October 31.
“Maybe we need to change something against Goa, not against the others. I promise we will play differently this year. But what happened with FC Goa is like Las Vegas. What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. End of story,” Costa joked.