When FC Goa finally quenched their desire for silverware with the League Winners Shield, all of India witnessed how consistent and efficient the Gaurs were. Hugo Boumous exalted himself to the status of cult hero and Coro proved yet again that he is no victim to time. However, the same could not be said about their enforcer, Ahmed Jahouh.
Turning 32 this year, the Moroccan is showing signs of inefficiency as compared to his past self. As we can see, Jahouh has shown a notable decline in his ability on the ball, attempting and completing fewer passes as well as losing the ball more often. We can shed light to the words of the legendary Paulo Maldini – “If I have to make a tackle, I have already made a mistake.” While the logic behind this quote is debated, Jahouh suffers a similar fate of having to track back and win the ball because it was lost by him in the first place. The increase in defensive stats and lost balls is would indicate that this is the case.
A New Beginning?
With ex-Goa gaffer Sergio Lobera set to join Mumbai City FC, rumors of Ahmed Jahouh following suit have not been far away. However, where Jahouh would stand in the team with Paulo Machado around is a question that comes with some intrigue. So far, Jahouh has only played as a number 6 in India, whereas Machado has played as a 6 and a 10. With Machado’s contract running till the end of the 2020-21 season, this move could have one of two consequences – Machado and Jahouh competing for the same spot, or Machado and Jahouh playing in the same XI while fulfilling different roles.
If the first scenario were to take place, we can expect Jahouh to replace his Portuguese counterpart. Even though injuries ravaged Machado’s second season, Jahouh has overshadowed Machado on aggregate, being distinctly superior in defending and passing. This sets up Jahouh to be a better pivot.
In the second case, we could see Jahouh as one of the pivots, and Machado playing as a number 10 in a possible 4-2-3-1. This could be a more amicable solution as Machado has already featured in the same role for Mumbai in the previous season. Also, having turned 34 this year, he would be better suited to a position where he has lesser obligation to cover distance and press. Boasting better offensive numbers than Jahouh, this alternative would be the most resourceful and effective.
For either of these combinations, the midfielder accompanying Jahouh would without a doubt be Rowllin Borges. Having shown great form in the last two seasons, and now at the peak of his career, there would be no reason to exclude Rowllin from the starting 11. Tactically speaking, he is a sound fit for Lobera’s system. His dominance in the air, positioning, and instinct to press fashions him into a great ball-winner. On the ball, Rowllin is a conservative passer, dropping deep into his own half to help in defense to midfield transitions, and recycling the ball while in possession to find the creative chiefs in Jahouh and Machado. To put it concisely, he is a like for like replacement for Lenny Rodrigues, but five years younger.
With Rowllin Borges, Sourav Das and Paulo Machado being the only Mumbai City FC players having a contract running after the 2019-20 season, the Islanders would be looking to keep Bidyananda Singh and Raynier Fernandes aboard. Young and explosive, Bidyananda has shown that he has a lot to offer in his arsenal. Although he may not feature often under Lobera, he could bring immense depth to the team’s midfield. His hunger for the ball, silky turns and precise diagonals show that he is not very far from being a contender in the playing XI.
On the other hand, Raynier Fernandes may see himself returning to the wing, mirroring his past self from Mohun Bagan. Despite being the most mobile midfielder in Mumbai, his defensive prowess cannot match that of Rowllin or Jahouh. Thus, he could be pushed out wide, taking up a role like Brandon Fernandes. Unlike an out and out winger, his duties would mainly revolve around finding and operating in the space between the lines, slipping into midfield to act as an extra man, and releasing the striker, the number 10 or the other winger.
This leaves Sourav Das. While his future comes shrouded with some mystery, he is likely to be on the bench. Being a box-to-box midfielder, he would find it difficult to replace either of the pivots unless there is a change in the system. However, he certainly has the ability to add some energy to the middle of the park should it be required.
With a long transfer window ahead of us, and deep pockets, it would be interesting to see which players Mumbai try to rope in. While there may not be many slots left, an extra attacking midfielder could certainly be on the cards.