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The False Promise of Jorge Costa

The False Promise of Jorge Costa at Mumbai City FC
Source: ISL Media

Mumbai City FC in the seasons prior to this have been a team of false starts and false hopes. Great run of matches followed by extremely poor results, failing in key matches and more often than not, looking clueless. Despite a top 4 finish in the first season under Jorge Costa, Mumbai failed to make the semis the next season, making it in the eyes of many a failed season. But the big question in the minds of a lot of people was, what went wrong?

After what looked like a step in the right direction after qualifying for the top 4 and picking up some great wins during the 18-19 season, the general expectation was to better that season’s performance. But what followed was a mix of unexpected transfers, tactics, results and everything in the middle which eventually led to their downfall in the 2019-20 season.


ISL Strikers 2019-20

It’s important to understand that there were a lot of factors that went wrong for Mumbai in the 19-20 season. A lot of people like to pin the blame on certain factors like tactics, recruitment, individual performances or even just pure bad luck. But a club that looked dead set to finish in the top 4, crumbling right at the tail of the tournament? There’s a lot more to it than what meets the eye. For better understanding, let’s break it into three parts. Recruitment, Tactics and Player Performances.

RECRUITMENT

Costa has usually shown similar tendencies during his recruitment and transfer activities. So, when the 19-20 season rolled around, it was very interesting to see a clear shift from his usual practices. The first noticeable change was his choice of the striker. A man who is known for having tall, strong target men who are excellent in the air, going for Chermiti was a very strange move from him.

A lot of comparisons were drawn between Chermiti and Coro in terms of their movement and as you can see from the graph, they are very similar in their movement. They make those late runs in the box to find their goals. A very uncharacteristic signing by Costa. Why do I say that? Let’s look at some of his most successful strikers and compare them.


Pantelis Kapetanos

Pantelis Kapetanos

Costas’s best-ever season was his stint with CFR Cluj in the Romanian top division.

In the 2011-12 season, Cluj went on to become champions winning 21 of their 34 games, but Jorge Costa was sacked midway through the season after a humiliating 5-0 loss to Rapid Bucharest. They did however manage to win the league by a point.

That Cluj team also had some familiar names in Modou Sougou and Rafael Bastos, but their main man was Pantelis Kapetanos. At 6ft 2in. he can be best described as a really strong target man. He was often the man to be targeted from crosses, scoring 12 goals in 29 games across all competitions. A fantastic header of the ball, he actually helped Modou Sougou rack up 15 assists that season.

Patrick Vouho

Patrick Vouho

At Cyprus-based AEL Limassol, Costa had Patrick Vouho as his main man.

At 6ft 1in. his best description would be that of a quick target man. Tall, deceptively strong and very quick, he also is a great header of the ball.

A very hard worker off the ball too, he scored 13 goals in 35 games across all competitions.

Roberto Colautti

Roberto Colautti

At Anorthosis, Roberto Colautti was Costa’s main man.

The 5ft 11in striker was a very physical striker with great strength and aerial ability. Again, a fantastic header of the ball, he has an excellent knack to find himself at the end of crosses. He also has an excellent leap on him which helps him compensate for his less than 6ft stature.

He scored 11 goals in 34 games for the Cypriot side.


Now you must be wondering, why go through all these strikers? That’s because it helps us understand the mentality of Jorge Costa as a manager. He loves a tall striker who is great in the air and physically imposing.

In fact, you could see a similar tendency with Modou Sougou. He is good in the air, quick, strong and has played with Costa before. He won the second most aerial duels (250.67 aerial challenges: Modou Sougou– 2nd; 281.26 aerial challenges: Bart Ogbeche-1st). Sougou was a target man and was pretty good aerially and scored three goals with his head.

So Chermiti was definitely an anomaly for Jorge Costa. Not an aerially strong, tall or even that quick of a striker, the arrival of Chermiti brought up more questions than answers.

There were some more recruitment decisions that Costa probably wouldn’t have made in a regular Costa season. The signing of Diego Carlos for example. Costa has always had excellent crossers as wingers which makes sense since he loves to play with a target man. So, to get a dribbling winger who loves to shoot was again very uncharacteristic of Costa.

What made the window even more uncharacteristic is the fact that Costa had never worked with Chermiti, Diego Carlos and Grgic. So that probably means that Costa went for these players after he saw something in them that he liked. But even the players he brought in with who he had worked before like Larbi (at Tours) or Serge Kevyn (at Gabon) were pretty atypical of Costa.

TACTICS

“We have to win to finish in the top four. I am sure my players will give their best.  I can change one or two players in the team but not my system. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow (Friday) or at the end of the season but I know we are trying and working hard. We have been working on it (system) for one-and-half years and I would not change that.”

-Jorge Costa pre match interview vs NorthEast United FC

The first very obvious point that one realises seeing Mumbai play in the 19-20 season is that there was a definite shift in tactics. A Mourinho man through and through, Costa was known for his defensive teams that play explosive counter-attacks. But after the drubbing against FC Goa on three different occasions, Costa seemed less keen on going with his natural instincts and instead changed his tactics. His focus shifted from a counter-attacking system to trying to play a more possession-based system.

Tactical Changes


Parameter2018-192019-20Percentage ChangeAbsolute Change

GOALS SCORED – RESULT

25

25

0.00%

0.00

GOALS CONCEDED

20

29

45.00%

9.00

BALL POSSESSION, MIN

399.3

401.4

0.52%

2.06

BALL POSSESSION IN OWN HALF

7377

6201.58

-15.93%

-1175.42

BALL POSSESSION IN OPP. HALF

16586

17884.42

7.83%

1298.42

BALL POSSESSION TIME IN THE FINAL THIRD OF THE FIELD

11621.16

12973.33

11.64%

1352.17

ATTACKS

1529

1576

3.07%

47.00

POSITIONAL ATTACKS

1018

1109

8.94%

91.00

COUNTER-ATTACKS

354

282

-20.34%

-72.00


As you can see, a lot of key metrics have changed indicating a shift to a more possession-based system. Although the time spent on the ball (BALL POSSESSION, MIN) hasn’t changed a lot, you can see that Mumbai spent a lot more time with the ball in the opposition half. In fact, Mumbai spent 11.64% of their time in the opposition final third.

Another key statistic is positional vs counter attacks. Positional attacks increased by 9% while counter-attacks reduced by a whopping 20.34%. All this is very indicative of the fact that there was a definite shift in mentality and tactics.

So then why exactly did Mumbai finish the season in such a disappointing fashion if everything seemed to be working well? Well, there were several factors, but what a lot of people miss out on was that Mumbai were never really that good. The few good performances were paint over cracks essentially.

Now, hear me out. Mumbai had some great moments under Costa and some big victories and results. But there were fundamental issues and problems that show that there was a lot more than what meets the eye.

Mumbai City FC 2018-19 Season


Mumbai City FC xG Differential Season 2018-19
Mumbai City FC xG Differential Season 2018-19

Let’s look at the 18-19 season of Mumbai under Jorge Costa. This graph shows the per match xG and xG against for Mumbai City FC in the 18-19 season at the top and the xG differential – result of the match and goal difference at the bottom.

It’s clear to see that Mumbai never really had an absolutely convincing match. In fact, if you consider having an xG differential of +0.75 as convincing (which is being very generous), Mumbai only ever had four convincing games. Which is not good enough. Mumbai had a very good string of results through the middle of the season, but in each of the results (Except KBFC at home), the game was too close for comfort.

They were blessed with a lot of lucky goals, individual errors and mistakes; seven out of their 25 goals came in this manner.

But their main issue was goal scoring distribution. They didn’t have enough goal scorers. Despite Sougou scoring 12 goals that season, seven of them came in just two games meaning he only scored five in the other 14. Mumbai won just four games in which he failed to score. Three 1-0 victories against Northeast, Bengaluru, and Jamshedpur and a 4-2 to Delhi. He had an xG differential of +4.17, the second highest in the league that year. That means he scored four more goals than what was expected from him. In fact, in just the Kerala home game, Sougou had an xG differential of +2.44. He wasn’t just outscoring what was expected from him, he was scoring some freak goals that really shouldn’t have made it. That went a long way into making him look like a great striker, but you can’t consistently score freak goals. Mumbai needed consistency upfront, but Sougou wasn’t the man for that.

Now, I don’t want to label this as a case of involuntary stat-padding but this is as close as it gets to it. Without him, the team lacked not only goals, but any sort of focal point in attack. Out of Mumbai’s 25 goals, Sougou scored 12 while the entirety of the remaining players scored 13 at an xG of 15.17. Shockingly enough, no other player in the team managed to score more than 3 goals. Every other top 4 teams had at least 3 or more players with 4+ goals. Only ATK and Mumbai failed to have more than one player with more than 4 goals to their name.

Astonishing how they still made the playoffs. And, of course, I don’t have to remind anyone about what happened in the semis. But the period in the middle where Mumbai were able to pick up points and gather momentum despite not actually performing well went a long way into carrying them to the semis, but it played a bigger part in giving false hope to most people. They were defensively good enough to fend off most attacks, but struggled against teams that played possession-based systems. All the Goa games were nothing short of a reality check for Costa and Mumbai.

Costa’s Past Record

Before we go ahead, lets take a look at Costa’s past. Despite his illustrious career as a player, he’s never been successful as a coach. Each of his stints is tarnished with poor performances and not meeting expectations.

TeamPrevious PositionPosition Under CostaOutcome

Académica de Coimbra

11th

14th

Sacked

CFR Cluj

10th

1st

Sacked mid-season due to embarrassing 5-0 loss to Rapid Bucharest

AEL Limassol

1st

5th

Sacked at the end of the season

Anorthosis Famagusta FC

2nd

6th

Sacked after 20 games

Tours FC

16th

20th (relegated)

Joined mid-season for a repair job, but couldn’t save the team from relegation

Having underperformed everywhere he’s ever managed, it is entirely possible that the humiliation he suffered by Lobera made him reflect on his tactics and the immediate need to change. Hence, we saw many changes in tactics in the 19/20 season.

Mumbai City FC 2019-20 Season


Mumbai City FC xG Differential Season 2019-20
Mumbai City FC xG Differential Season 19-20

In the 19-20 season, it was apparent that Costa wanted to play a more possession-based system. The constant passing between the defence was an outcome of that but in the eyes of many, it was possession for the sake of possession and not to actually do something with it.

In the end, the attacking players would still drift wide to try to cross the ball in. Mumbai made the most crosses in the 19-20 season [303 crosses (80 accurate)] and had 36 headed chances compared to 23 in the 18-19 season. This was pretty prominent as 11 of their 25 goals came from wide areas. Also, they scored eight goals due to opposition error, deflections, etc. It’s also noteworthy that on three occasions where Mumbai played better than the opposition, they failed to win (KBFC home, ATK home, HFC away).

This was pretty baffling to most. Why get a 5ft 7in. poacher and feed him crosses to head in? This is why I like to label this season as a battle of heart and mind.

In his mind, Costa knows he needs to change his tactics to improve the team and possibly himself as a manager. And he would’ve been right. Mumbai finished the 19-20 season with an xG of 27.21 (18/19 xG- 23.01). That means they were expected to score at least 27 goals with the chances they created but only managed to score 25. That is a definite improvement from last year and if it wasn’t down to some poor individual performances, Mumbai may have looked way better in attack. But even though goal scoring wasn’t at its finest at the city of dreams, the defence is what would’ve given Costa nightmares.

Parameter2018-192019-20Percentage ChangeAbsolute Change

GOALS CONCEDED

20

29

45.00%

9.00

DEFENSIVE CHALLENGES

1439

1392

-3.27%

-47.00

CHALLENGES IN DEFENCE WON

839

767

-8.58%

-72.00

AIR CHALLENGES

723

784

8.44%

61.00

AIR CHALLENGES WON

364

387

6.32%

23.00

TACKLES

639

574

-10.17%

-65.00

Mumbai downgraded in almost every key defensive parameter. With only aerial challenges being bettered than the last year, it’s no surprise that Mumbai performed so much worse than the 18-19 season. Conceding some absolutely avoidable goals against FC Goa, ATK and even the likes of KBFC, it’s easy to point out where it went wrong. But why did it go wrong? That brings me to my third point.

PLAYER PERFORMANCES

Though a lot of things may have been flawed in the 18-19 season, they still had some great players and a clear plan of attack. Machado with his excellent passes to the incredibly pacey Issoko, Bastos and Sougou with their understanding and Goian as a leader at the back, Mumbai had a great foundation to build off of.

But in the 19-20 season, you immediately realize that the quality of the new players was just not on par with those who departed. Almost every single new player recruited performed worse than the player they were supposed to replace. Let’s take the players from the 19-20 season and compare them to their predecessors.

Goian 2018-19 vs Grgic 2019-20


Lucian Goian 2018-19 vs Mato Grgic 2019-20 Defensive Comparison
Lucian Goian 2018-19 vs Mato Grgic 2019-20 Defensive Comparison

As you can see, the players from the 18-19 season outperform the players from the 19-20 season. Goian outperforms Grgic in almost every parameter and in certain instances is leaps and bounds better than him. For example in defensive challenges successful (Goian:7.57 p90 vs Grgic: 1 p90) or tackles successful (Goian: 2.57 p90 vs Grgic: 0.5 p90) – you can see where majority of Mumbai’s defensive woes originated from. Grgic was simply not up to the task of leading the backline. And losing a leader and a key figure in Goian would’ve definitely affected morale.

Additionally, even though Grgic performs a lot more attacking challenges (Goian: 3.88 p90 vs Grgic: 8.75 p90), he only succeeds a similar amount of time (Goian: 2.47 p90 vs Grgic: 3.19 p90). It shows that the intent was there, but the technical ability or maybe even the mentality of Grgic was arguably not meant for the role.

It’s fair to say that Grgic’s performances were technically inferior to those of Goian’s. it’s also important to note that because of a tactical change, there was more of an onus on CBs to have better technical performances. What I mean is that a poor technical display from the CB hurt them more than what it would’ve in the 18-19 season.

Joyner 2018-19 vs Pratik 2019-20


Joyner Lourenco 2018-19 vs Pratik Chaudhari 2019-20 Attacking Comparison
Joyner Lourenco 2018-19 vs Pratik Chaudhari 2019-20 Attacking Comparison

Mumbai could get away with their centre backs having poor passing because it wasn’t a requirement. As you can see Pratik is actually better than Joyner in terms of attacking output, but that’s because there was a higher emphasis on ball retention, passing, dealing with the press and overall building from the back.

So, the CBs in 19-20 had a lot more to do and found it relatively hard to cope up – Pratik Chaudhary in the 18-19 team would come across a lot better because the attacking requirements were less. It’s not that the defence was horrible, it’s that what was asked of them was way more technical and hence the incredibly poor defensive numbers. 

The Winger Conundrum


Rafael Bastos 18-19 vs Mohammed Larbi 19-20 LW/CAMcomparison
Rafael Bastos 18-19 vs Mohammed Larbi 19-20 LW/CAMcomparison

If we shift our focus to the wing department, you can see how underwhelming Sougou and Larbi really were and how Kevyn’s existence is almost non-existent. When you look at stats like Kevyn and Sougou combined having fewer assists than Issoko, Kevyn actually failing to register a single assist and Larbi failing to score non-penalty goals despite having a npxG (non-penalty xG) of 3.46, it tells a damning tale.

They were quite poor and it’s easy to understand why Mumbai were so underwhelming despite arguably attempting to play a better brand of football. The new players were, simply put, not good enough and that really showed. Failing to convert good chances and missing penalties, Mumbai’s recruitment really put them in a difficult position. And then failing to replace the injured Paulo Machado only made matters worse, eventually leading to Costa’s sacking. It really shines a light on the “players you’ve previously managed vs quality players with no prior relationship” argument.  


Arnold Issoko 18-19 vs Modou Sougou 19-20 vs Serge Kevyn 19-20 RW comparison
Arnold Issoko 18-19 vs Modou Sougou 19-20 vs Serge Kevyn 19-20 RW comparison

CONCLUSION

With a clear recruitment plan under Sergio Lobera coupled with the young Indian signings that the club’s staff has made over the past three years, you can see there’s a clear plan regarding the future of the club and the Indian players in it.

As you can see through this graph, there have been a lot of young players that have been brought to the club with the future in mind. With the signings of some hidden gems like Valpuia and Bidyananda, there’s a definite plan and an extensive scouting system for the Indian players.

The only thing missing was a plan regarding the recruitment of foreign players. With a few hits and a lot of misses, it became evident that over the years, the foreign recruitment led them down year after year. This season under Lobera, that seems to have changed as the recruitment has been excellent because of this, the Indian players brought earlier may finally start to give out performances that we expect from them.

The two seasons under Costa gave a lot of fans hope of making the finals. But when the dust settled after a frantic and a heart-breaking end to both seasons, a simple down to earth analysis proves one thing, Mumbai under Costa were just not good enough. In fact, I’d go so far to say that Costa wasn’t good enough. He in a sense failed at every team that he’s managed and Mumbai was finally the place where he realized that he needs to change, but couldn’t bring himself to completely implement the change. The drubbing against Lobera and even being outclassed by Eelco, a manager who believes in pressing and possession made him completely transform his mindset, but you can never fight your natural instincts for too long.

Under the new tactic, Mumbai actually had better attacking output but failed to convert their chances. Defensive woes, poor recruitment and just bad luck at times really spelled the end of Costa’s time with the Islanders. Could better recruitment lead to a much better season? Is going for players the manager has managed before overrated and actually incredibly restrictive? These answers may forever remain unanswered. As Costa now is looking at a new career as the manager at his new club CS Gaz Metan Mediaș – we’ll perhaps never know whether India changed Costa as a manager or it was just a one off attempt that eventually lead to his departure.

2 Comments

  1. Uttkarsh Uttkarsh 26th December 2020

    Really in-depth. Great read!

  2. Krathish Krathish 26th December 2020

    Brilliant analysis of Mumbai under Jorge, I wonder what kind of manager the team really needs.

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