Mumbai City FC came into the 2023-24 season as favourites based on what they had achieved in the previous season – a League Shield triumph in record-breaking fashion. 

But ever since they confirmed their title as ISL champions, things didn’t quite go to plan. The Islanders lost out in the semi-finals to Bengaluru FC before key players Ahmed Jahouh and Mourtada Fall departed the team. 

The Islanders brought in able replacements in Tiri and Yoell van Nieff but it would take some time for the new signings to bed into the team. Mumbai City FC though still made a strong start to the season which was often interrupted by their Asian adventure in the AFC Champions League. 

Amid the fixture congestion, Mumbai City FC suffered a body blow as the architect of one of the strongest teams in the ISL, Des Buckingham left the team five matches into the new ISL season. 

In came Petr Kratky, a man thrust into his first role as head coach who had to fill the big void left by Buckingham. There was no respite as the fixtures came thick and fast. Growing competition in the ISL threatened to leave the Mumbai side behind as they simultaneously dealt with a really difficult Champions League campaign. 

Kratky and Mumbai City FC emerged out of this difficult period far from the rampant side that ran away with the League Shield a year earlier but still very much in the hunt for big honours. 

The break for the AFC Asian Cup was to bring Mumbai City FC a much-needed breather from the chaotic first half of the season but their challenges were compounded further when Greg Stewart, one of the best players to ever grace the league decided to move back to his homeland. 

Jorge Perreyra Diaz was handed a long suspension for his misbehaviour during the Kalinga Super Cup. Mumbai City FC were quick to sign a replacement in Iker Guarrotxena, a proven goalscorer with FC Goa in the ISL.

Their first game back in the ISL ended in a shock 2-3 loss against Jamshedpur FC who fought back from 2-0 down to win at the Mumbai Football Arena. The result prompted critics to rule the Islanders out of the race for the League Shield, but they responded. 

New signing Guarrotxena was at the heart of the revival as he scored three goals in four games. But the boost didn’t last long and the former FC Goa forward suffered a season-ending injury. It was to be a blow that would prove fatal to their Shield chances, but once again Mumbai City FC found a way. 

Kratky’s belief in his players and his system rubbed onto his players as the Indian stars stepped up to the plate in the absence of the foreign stars. Vikram Partap Singh was at the forefront of it, taking over the goalscoring mantle. Lalianzualla Chhangte who had a relatively quiet campaign by his standards burst onto the scene in the dying games of the campaign. 

Mumbai City FC grew into belief as those around them faltered and in a blink of an eye found themselves in pole position for the League Shield. Only Mohun Bagan Super Giant were in between them and glory. 

Needing just a draw from the away game against the Mariners in Kolkata, Mumbai City FC were slight favourites. But the Islanders couldn’t take the final step as an opportunistic Mohun Bagan Super Giant pipped them to the Shield. 

Mumbai City FC had taken setback after setback and the latest one was the most painful one of the lot and one that they may not have had to come back from. 

A 2-0 scoreline against FC Goa in the first leg of the semi-final hinted that the wheels were finally coming off for Mumbai City FC. Then in a flash, it all changed for the good again. 

Chhangte, the Player of the League last season sent a reminder of why he was the rightful recipient for the award scoring twice and assisting once in a space of six minutes to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Jayesh Rane, normally a fringe player came on and changed the game in Mumbai’s favour. Another Indian had stepped up for Kratky when it was needed. It was as if he had a magic wand. 

Mumbai City FC were down on several occasions but never out. They always came back, they never perished. 

Mohun Bagan Super Giant awaited once again as the final of the ISL Cup took Mumbai City FC back to Kolkata, the venue of their League Shield agony. The wounds from that loss had barely healed and Kratky’s men had to face the acid test again. 

A team in red-hot form backed by 60,000 vocal supporters was another hurdle that Mumbai City FC weren’t meant to cross. But they did it in typical Mumbai City FC fashion. 

They came, put the League Shield defeat behind them, and imposed them on their opponents. They asserted themselves, passed the ball, closed down their opponents and restricted them to their own half. Mumbai City FC had the game by the scruff of its neck. All was going to plan. 

And disaster struck. Against the run of play, after Islanders had struck the woodwork twice, Mohun Bagan Super Giant took the lead to ignite the Salt Lake atmosphere. Mumbai trailed at the interval after a half they had dominated. 

Were Mohun Bagan SG going to prove to be too big a hurdle to cross again? But out came Mumbai, almost healed from that first-half shock, playing their football as they know it. It was as if they refused to accept the result and kept going. 

Diaz who personified the team’s relentlessness in sticking to their gameplan and in believing in their own selves chased the Mohun Bagan SG defender into a mistake as he stole the march on him to equalise. 

Mumbai City FC had broken through the Salt Lake barrier. They had the goal they deserved, and almost the entire half to drive home their superiority. The Mohun Bagan SG response was lukewarm. The reason was Mumbai City FC’s excellence led by Apuia in midfield who covered every blade of grass on the pitch breaking the Mariners’ play before launching the Mumbai attacks with some precise passing. 

Mumbai City FC’s dominance was proving to be unsustainable for Mohun Bagan SG, a team that thrive on soaking all the pressure and hitting the opponent with a sucker punch. Eventually, Mohun Bagan SG couldn’t keep up with the Islanders’ resilience of not wilting under the pressure of the crowd and the relentlessness of the desire to impose their game on the match. 

Bipin Singh, Mohun Bagan SG’s old nemesis and a player who has been pushed to the bench by the excellence of Vikram Partap came up trumps to score the goal that gave Mumbai the lead in the final, just as he had done in 2020-21. The Mumbai City FC great who at times looked like a fading star of a team being phased out, stood up and sent a reminder of his quality. 

Jakub Vojtus, a replacement of a replacement forward who had barely found his feet at Mumbai City FC added the finishing touches to become the first player to score as well as assist in an ISL Cup final.

It all came together for Mumbai City FC when it all threatened to fall apart so many times during the season. 

Mumbai City FC challenged fate and defeated it to carve their name on another piece of silverware. Their 2023-24 ISL Cup triumph may not be as celebrated as their rampant League Shield glory of 2022-23, but it was as remarkable a feat, if not more.