Mumbai City FC know exactly what to do on a football pitch. They know when to pass, where to run and how to press. Every move, rehearsed repeatedly on the training pitch, has brought the Islanders closer to becoming the embodiment of head coach Des Buckingham’s footballing vision. “We play the same way, we don’t change our style.” 

There has been no interview or press conference in which Buckingham hasn’t used these words so far. And his team are showing that his way is the right way. Mumbai City FC are the only unbeaten team in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season. They are top of the table, having scored 23 goals in eight matches—the most by any team at this stage of the season in the league’s history. 

There is almost nothing left to chance by Mumbai City FC, who systematically carve oppositions out; at times rapidly, at others, with great patience. They keep doing what they believe in—minute in, minute out; match in, match out, and week in, week out. 

They haven't needed a great deal of luck to produce these results, especially at the top end of the pitch this season. They have scored 21 out of their 23 goals from inside the box; created more chances than any other team this season; and they have the most goals in both the first and second halves of games this season. 

To sum it up, the Islanders have scored goals left, right and centre in Hero ISL 2022-23. They are a goal machine that is looking incredibly difficult to stop right now. 

But for all their tactics and meticulous execution—which have made it seem as if Mumbai City FC deliver almost robot-like performances and results—they have come to rely on the magic, flair and a bit of something extraordinary that the fantastic forward Greg Stewart has added to their well-rehearsed gameplay.

The Scottish forward, who won the Hero of the League award last season while playing for Jamshedpur FC, has picked up from where he left off last season—albeit in different colours. 

Stewart’s creativity and inventiveness in the heart of the Mumbai City FC attack make each of their well practised moves tick. He does a job for the team that no other player can pull off. 

“Greg Stewart's feet and his ability to be able to control that ball and create something out of nothing, be it a pass, or be it a chance for himself or his teammates, is the best in the league by a country mile,” notes Hero ISL commentator and expert Paul Masefield. 

“He is an intelligent player. He reads the game so well. He anticipates where the ball is going to drop, which is why we see him pick up so many balls in between the lines and when he does that, he is so dangerous. He knows where to go, when to go and how to go,” adds Masefield. 

Stewart has created 28 chances this season which is the most by any player. He alone created 67 chances for Jamshedpur FC last season, putting them third in the list of chances created in the Hero ISL last term. 

This campaign, though, the Red Miners are struggling without him and have only managed to create 63 chances so far, which is at least seven fewer than any team in the top five in this metric this season. 

32-year-old Stewart is the glue that holds the Mumbai City FC attack together, linking the play in the final third like no other player can. 

“What I most admire about his style is the ability to pick out a pass while on the move. He has a peripheral vision which enables him to conduct the pattern of play, while others around him are struggling for possession. He must be a dream to play alongside,” says Hero ISL commentator John Helm. 

Helm’s views are seconded by Mumbai City FC midfielder Lalengmawia Ralte who believes Stewart has been the difference-maker in the team. 

“We play with two defensive midfielders (myself and Jahouh), so we were a bit defensive (last season). But this season, we have been attacking more as we have Stewart who can control the game and create chances. Last season, we were lacking someone who could create a lot of chances in the attacking midfield,” Ralte said in an interview to last week.

While Stewart’s silky skills are there for all to see, there’s more to his stellar performance than just his ability on the ball. 

“Greg Stewart comes from a place where you either win or you're in trouble. He has built that mentality from his years in Scotland. The type of player he is, I'm sure he was kicked about the place and he had to give it back; otherwise you get lost over there. It's his mentality to keep taking the ball and showing his skills, and his ability that make him special,” says Hero ISL commentator and expert Erik Paartalu, who spent four years playing in Scotland. 

“For me, it's just his mentality that's above most players. He doesn't get fazed and he will try everything to win the game, even if that means talking trash or getting under the skin of the opponents. It's normal in Scotland, you have to be so competitive,” Paartalu adds. 

The impact of Stewart's mentality can be gauged from how he lifts the players around him and makes them better. Bipin Singh has the most goal contributions for an Indian player this season (6). Lallianzuala Chhangte also has been among the goals and so has Jorge Pereyra Diaz. Even Ralte has looked more promising than ever before while going forward, and Stewart’s presence has been key to this improvement. 

There may be several reasons behind Mumbai City FC’s success so far this season. A lot of the credit goes to the coaching staff for stitching together a team that knows their roles well. The Islanders have been able to switch personnel at will and still achieve the same results. But there is one pair of boots that they may not be able to fill so seamlessly—and those are of Greg Stewart, the magician in the Mumbai City FC machine.