"Cautious Planning, Home Information, and International Experience" – How Damian Willoughby, CEO of CFG India helped drive Mumbai Metropolis FC's ISL success!

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The islanders have won their first cutlery of the season and the work behind the scenes under Willoughby's leadership must be recognized …

Of course, when City Football Group (CFG) made their foray into India and brought the Indian Super League (ISL) team Mumbai City FC under its roof, much was expected of them.

The entire Indian football ecosystem has watched carefully as a company with a global presence will adapt to the unique challenges that India has to offer. Eight months later, they were pleasantly surprised when Mumbai City FC stormed their way to the ISL League Winners Shield and secured a spot in the AFC Champions League for the next year.

In context, this was probably a more prestigious trophy than the ISL itself, which only guarantees a spot in the AFC Cup – the continent's second-tier competition.

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And this great achievement is due to the shrewd approach taken by Mumbai City's management under the guidance of Damian Willoughby, CFG India CEO, who leads the CFG team that consults the club pending final regulatory approval of the purchase. The Englishman and his team brought their global expertise to the table, but with contributions from the existing Mumbai City team, made sure they know the Indian football scenario well. But bringing it all together in the middle of a pandemic was a difficult challenge.

In a season marked by bio-bubbles, quarantines, and no travel, the foundations of Willoughby and his team prior to CFG entering India were the key differential.

Mumbai City, ISL League Winners Shield

Global know-how and local knowledge

"It was clearly a really unique and challenging environment for the entire league and all clubs that have operated in a bio-safe bubble for so long. It brings a lot of different challenges, but we were very fortunate to be able to operate." For over 160 days safe and secure in the fantastic environment here in Goa. We had made a lot of preparations before entering the Indian football landscape and obviously spent a lot of time with the people who were already at the club. "Willoughby said Goal.

These interactions with those already in the club, including Kandarp Chandra, Chief Operating Officer of Mumbai City and Watson Fernandes, Director of Football, who have worked with the club since its inception, have been vital. After Willoughby realized that Watson and his team knew the Indian football ecosystem well, his challenge was to match them with CFG's global expertise and translate it into a squad capable of challenging silverware.

And that was a challenge that he mastered.

"We knew we were going to inherit some really talented people like Kandarp and Watson who have been with the club for many years and that gave us a really strong foundation to build on our own CFG knowledge and understanding of the league, technical standards and the to develop." Dynamism of this competition. So we started from a really solid base in terms of the people we already had at the club and then, when you superimpose that reservoir of knowledge and experience from global football, which is a really powerful invention, a unique one in my opinion City Football Group advantage.

Collective and collaborative effort

However, the work was not easy, even with the right people on board. Mumbai City had a disappointing season and changes needed to be made. Former FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera was available and Willoughby didn't think twice before zooming in on him. 17 new players were brought in, including players who are familiar with Lobera and who support the manager to the full.

"We were very fortunate that we were able to hire, recruit and bring Sergio (Lobera) into the club. He has a thorough knowledge of Indian football and player talent again, so I think if you combine all of these elements, Is that the case." provided a very good platform and basis for development. We had to spend a lot of time building the squad to be competitive and there was clearly significant sales on the football side

Hugo Boumous Ahmed Jahouh City Mumbai ISL 7

"We had to hire 17 new players and a new coaching staff. It took a lot of time and energy from a lot of people. A concerted effort has been made to ensure that a competitive squad was built and we clearly have a squad that is in the." Indian Super League is experienced, very familiar and proven, and we have teamed up with some high-profile international players, and this season too we have seen the development and development of our Indian players, which we are really proud of.

"It took a Herculean effort on the part of a lot of people and what we achieved in terms of leg one when we won the ISL Shield and qualified for the AFC Champions League. Without that amount of hard work, knowledge and expertise this was not possible. " Expertise. The next challenge ahead of us is to play in the playoffs and win the ISL trophy now, "Willoughby went on to pay tribute to his entire team.

The perfect marriage with Lobera

Lobera's appointment made sense in a number of ways, as the Spaniard's offensive style of football was not only a proven record of success in the ISL, but also coincided with the type of football CFG wanted to identify with (Manchester City) and Pep Guardiola someone ?). It was a perfect marriage in many ways. And it must be thanks to Willoughby and his team that they provided Lobera with all the tools to get his job done.

Sergio Lobera Mumbai City ISL 7

"We have built a squad that is able to survive at the top of the league. Here, too, our recruitment of Sergio (Lobera) was in many ways a perfect alignment. Because at his core he is so concise on the vision and the Philosophy that we have. " in the group. Want to play nice football, want to play an open, attractive and expansive brand of football that entertains people. But he's also a proven winner and we loved the opportunity to be really competitive from the start and we did.

"We have always stayed true to our philosophy, which he has as a coach and CFG as an organization. I think we are really proud, not only because we won the Shield, but also in the style in which we did it , it was so enjoyable. People on the other side Our group enjoyed playing our signature brand of football, "he explained.

The best possible environment for football

However, putting it into action while a pandemic raged across the world required excellent coordination and effort between Willoughby and his team. Willoughby was stuck in Singapore but was in constant touch with those in Mumbai and the global team in Manchester to make sure the squad was in perfect shape before the ISL. And at a time when there was no margin for a meaningful preseason, management's efforts to make sure the team was in good shape were commendable.

"We have tried to provide the best possible environment for football operations. We have relied on the expertise and guidance of our colleagues in global football. With Brian Marwood (MD at CFG, Global Football) and Matthew Rea (Head of Football Services Delivery), CFG), we were able to make season plans and make sure the players got into the preseason in the best possible condition. We made the environment here at our camp at the hotel as comfortable as possible. The players had all the equipment they needed to stay in to stay sharp and fit during the quarantine period and then come into the preseason.

Willoughby quote

"We looked at the training facility provided by the league and wanted it to be the best possible setup for being close to our hotel. The finish and quality had to meet the needs of our coaching staff, and we always had the goal and the objective for us it was giving Sergio the support he needed to make sure the players had everything they could to prepare and perform. Their stay in Goa was enjoyable and ultimately focused on one thing to improve each day perform on the training ground and in games.

"It is a great proof of the character of the squad and the staff that they have made it. We are a close-knit group on the pitch and we live off the pitch as a family."

Character amid challenges like Covid-19

Willoughby went on to pay tribute to the character within the team, be it the players, the coaching staff, and the back room staff. In a challenging season, Mumbai City became the first team under the CFG umbrella to win the league in its first season under their leadership. And that depends on the character and expertise of the management, from Willoughby all the way down.

"The whole world has seen major challenges from COVID in the past 12 months and football is a reflection of life and society. So in addition to the athletic challenges and hurdles you have to overcome, we had to address the challenges that COVID brings with it. " I want to be successful. But I think it goes back to the character of the group. The coach and the attitude and atmosphere we were trying to create in the camp, which is obviously driven by Sergio and his staff, were top notch, "he said.

While the Englishman rightly attributes an already successful season to his team (with maybe more in the near future), Willoughby himself was a major factor in why Mumbai City FC did what was expected of him. And it wasn't an easy task.

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