It was in the month of June, 2016 when the Essel Group-owned franchise introduced former Royal Wahingdoh gaffer Santosh Kashyap as their head coach. The 50-year-old manager was replacing Khalid Jamil who managed the metropolis outfit for seven years.
Kashyap’s arrival was expected to shoo away the relegation battles of the then Steven Dias-led side but the gaffer’s journey wasn’t a merry ride. His woe-filled episode in Mumbai kick-started with the departure of fan favourites Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta to current table leaders Aizawl FC. The failure to retain the key duo meant that the franchise had lost two of its stellar performers in the recent times.
However, the Maharashtra club brought in Thoi Singh in the same month. The Manipuri was lethal on the flanks for the team but the lack of a striker up front meant that 19-year-old Hitesh Sharma was deployed as a number 9. The youngster, who predominantly functions in the number 10 role, understandably struggled in the attacking position but the manager was unaffected by it, for a brief period. The creative medio, when shifted back to his supreme locale, was undoubtedly the best player on the field but the Mumbai boss was unconvinced and Sharma was sidelined mid-season without explanation. The Tata Football Academy product featured in only seven matches for the Yellow Submarines, a number which was far less than he deserved. It could be argued that the youngster’s talent was suppressed by Kashyap for reasons unknown.
Hitesh wasn’t the only one to be sidelined suddenly. The ex-Prayag United boss often threw players in and out of the starting line-up, experimenting varied combinations to grind results. This continued all season long as the coach never got hold of his best XI. This was one of the major causes of Mumbai’s mediocre results.
The defensive forces of Mumbai were hardly solid enough to safeguard the threats. The squad conceded 12 goals in their first seven games, with their biggest loss, 3-0, coming against defending champions Bengaluru FC at Kanteerava Stadium. Later, in the beginning of February, the club acquired the services of Afghan defender Djelaludin Sharityar and right back Mehrajuddin Wadoo. Their signings didn’t actually help solidify the defence as Kashyap and company went on to concede 11 more goals, taking their tally to 23 goals conceded in 14 fixtures. The Kattimani-captained side are tied with new entrants Minerva Punjab on the most goals granted in the 2017 edition of India’s top flight league.
As the going got tough, Kashyap resorted to adding foreign players as an answer to Mumbai’s ongoing misery. The club first signed Brazilian midfielder Robson Chaves Santana to add some spark in the middle of the park. However, it was one of the worst mistakes committed by the management. In the game against Meghalaya side Shillong Lajong, the central attacking midfielder was wasteful in front of goal and was guilty of heading wide one of Thoi Singh's perfect deliveries from close range. The player was released by the club weeks later, stating that the Brazilian was carrying injuries even before he arrived. The question here lies as to why was he even signed in the first place if the club knew he wasn’t fully fit? This, however, remains unanswered.
Furthermore, Densill Theobald, who was added to the squad in the initial stages also failed to make an impact. Brazilian duo of Anderson Raimundo and Alex Willian Silva were the final two foreign signings at the club. Both the attackers were promising and decent in their play but fell prey to injuries. Also, they were introduced into the team pretty late. Thus, the below-par foreign transfers showed how under-prepared Kashyap was for this season.
The manager, who claimed to be a believer of offensive football but never succeeded in executing it, often failed to accept the reality. Kashyap kept stating that a top three position is the target for the season despite a shambolic run of results. It was only after the defeat against Aizawl on March 4, following a streak of 10 games without a win, that the AFC Pro Diploma coaching license holder remarked that the ‘dream’ is out of reach.
This delusional behaviour of Santosh Kashyap naturally annoyed the fans as the supporters began losing faith in their leader. To add to it, Kashyap released two key players - right winger Steven Dias and defender Pratik Chaudhari - along with Allan Dias. This was the moment the fans were assured that the boss has lost his dressing room and started revolting against him. The fans called for Kashyap to be sacked with immediate effect and hurled several abuses at the former Indian international. They held a banner which stated, “Santosh Out,” and another which depicted his face on the body of a snake.
Kashyap, ignored the infuriating remarks for a long time but finally broke silence at Pune. On March 11, following a 5-0 thrashing by Maharashtra rivals DSK Shivajians, Kashyap debated about the fans’ comments. He questioned the fans’ upbringing, which was totally uncalled for. Also, in the same press conference, he rubbished claims that he was close to getting the axe and instead blamed the media for running a campaign against his team. Little did he know that was his last game in charge.
March 18 marked the end of his reign at the club or one would say, The era that wasn't...