Mumbai City FC have managed to overcome their hurdles and lift the Indian Super League (ISL) Cup for the second time in their history following their comeback win over Mohun Bagan Super Giant in the ISL 2023-24 season final on Saturday. 

The Islanders drew curtains to yet another successful season, finishing second in the league stage with 47 points off their 22 matches, just a point below League Shield winners Mohun Bagan SG, and then went on to beat the Mariners to ISL Cup. 

Mumbai City FC captain Rahul Bheke, has been a crucial figure in the backline of the Islanders. Bheke has amassed 48 clearances, seven blocks, and 25 interceptions in his 23 matches this season while helping his team keep a clean sheet on eight occasions. He has further managed to win 21 tackles and 74 duels. 

Besides that, the defender has created nine goal-scoring chances for Mumbai City FC this season and registered a passing accuracy of 84%. 

Mumbai City FC have been one of the most consistent teams in the ISL 2023-24 season having lost only three matches, including their disheartening League Shield decider loss against the Mariners in Kolkata. Reflecting back on their season, Bheke believes that these losses helped the team learn and become more acquainted with the ideas of head coach Petr Krakty. 

I think we learned from the mistake that happened in the (League) Shield (decider) game. So the coach wanted us to play in a certain way and we didn't play at that time. So in the final, everyone was very much sure what we have to do right from the first minute. You could have seen that in the first minute only the way everyone was playing. So I think that was the reason, I think that we got the win and we did that till the 90th minute,” stated Bheke while speaking to after their ISL Cup glory. 

Although Mumbai City FC dominated the game, it was Mohun Bagan SG who broke the deadlock right before half-time through Jason Cummings and went into the second half with a one-goal lead.

Sharing insights into how his team managed to keep their composure and turned the scoreline into a 1-3 win, the 30-year-old said, “Because each and everyone was having that belief (that we could come back). You know, when we went to half-time, we went to the dressing room, the way we played the first half, we just wanted to continue that same thing in the second half, and we were sure that we would get the goal.”

Elucidating on Mumbai City FC’s philosophy, he added, “About the philosophy, like we have done that, you know, from these past three seasons. Coaches have told us (what to do), like when Des (Buckingham) was here or when Petr (Kratky) sir came. So we did according to them, how we have to play. And just about the games like semifinal games, final game, these are totally different games. There are games where you have to manage sometimes. So even the coach told us that there will be time where you have to manage the game. It won't be always the way we want to play. Sometimes you have to manage it and I think today we did that and we got that.”

Bheke feels that it was the confidence of the players that pulled them through when they were a goal down.

“I had that belief. You know, the players in the dressing room, everyone was confident and positive. Even when we conceded we didn't give them any chances in the first half and the way we were playing, that was the positive thing and everyone knew that if we continue the same way in the second half, we will get that goal. And I think in the first five, seven minutes we got that first goal. So everything changed from there,” he shared.

Mumbai City FC lost their pivotal duo of Alberto Noguera and Jorge Diaz in the second half due to injuries, forcing Lallianzuala Chhangte to drop back to midfield. 

On being asked whether these injuries mentally impacted the team, the India international replied, “We were not nervous because we knew that players (could do it). You know, in the Goa game (semi-final 2, first leg), the Indian guys came in, they played so well away from home and they scored three goals in six minutes. So everyone knew what their job was, we knew that they will come and make that impact from the bench.”

So because this is such a big game, everyone wants to play, everyone wants to perform well and today each and everyone did that,” he continued.