A new rivalry between two Spanish coaches is coming to define the Indian Super League
Before the seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL), Antonio Lopez Habas and Sergio Lobera had two trophies each in their cabinet. It soon turned out to be a battle of wits between the crafty Spaniards, Habas, working with his old Atletico de Kolkata that had now been rebranded ATK Mohun Bagan FC (ATKMB), while Lobera tried to bring out the best in Mumbai City FC, his new club after a successful three-year spell with FC Goa.
Habas held the upper hand, given that he was still to lose an ISL final after a couple of successful campaigns. By the end of the season though, Lobera had gone two-up over his senior compatriot. He first clinched the Winner’s Shield by topping the league and handing Mumbai City an AFC Champions League berth next season. Then, in the final against ATKMB that was level until the 90th minute, Bipin Singh scored at the death to help his side to a memorable double. For Lobera, it was a shot at redemption after his unceremonious sacking from Goa last year. He now has charge of a club that has been injected with financial muscle by the City Football Group which picked up a65 per cent stake in ATKMB in 2019. As part of the rebuilding, they splurged on tested names who clicked when it mattered most.
A look at the numbers makes it seem like a close affair between the two sides. They were level on 40 points in the league and Mumbai City nicked the final by a slender one-goal margin. Truth is, Habas couldn’t crack this opposition all season, losing twice in the league before the eventual sucker punch. Lobera, on the other hand, not only helped Mumbai City win their first silverware since the club’s inception, but is now also the most successful coach in the league’s brief history.
The season will also be remembered for having unfolded under the most extraordinary circumstances. For close to four months, the 11 teams went about their business in haunted stadiums across Goa that had been stripped of their boisterous fans. Besides the physical demands of operating under humid conditions, the players and support staff also had to maintain their sanity while functioning inside a bio-bubble, fighting the monotony of shuttling between ground and hotel. For Habas and Lobera, though, much like the football itself, it was business as usual.
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