This is how this soccer team from Mumbai rules the Elite Premier League

Imagine: 15 games, 15 wins and 71 goals. That is Ambernath United-Atlanta FC’s impressive record to date in the Mumbai Football Association’s (MFA) Elite Premier League.

They won the title three games ago, and with two games left, they’re on track to set an all-win record in the league.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, their women’s team – Mumbai Knights WFC – is also on track to win the MFA Women’s Premier League with an all-win record. They have won all of their four games so far and with two games remaining, a win in the next game will see them claim the title.

It is also spectacular that the squads were only put together and training started a month before the start of the leagues.

The catalyst for this remarkable season was their head coach – former Indian star Steven Dias.

Dias, who was previously assistant manager of Jamshedpur FC and later Odisha FC in the Indian Super League (ISL), decided that instead of being the second-in-command of a team in the country’s top division, he would opt for the promotion of footballers from Mumbai would use .

After his time at Odisha FC, Dias was thinking about his next goal when he met his old friend from Mumbai, Deepu K, who ran a club called Ambernath United. The team only competed in private tournaments around Mumbai, but Deepu, himself a former footballer, wanted a team in the city’s top division, but on one condition – he wanted everything about it to be professional.

A few meetings later, Dias, enthusiastic about the idea when it was first discussed, put pen to paper. After being given free reign, he began scouting for players and even convinced his former teammates (younger than him) to join the team.

“I always believed that Mumbai football had a lot to offer but unfortunately their talent was never realised,” he told the Free Press Journal. “That’s why I accepted this challenge. Being from Mumbai, it pained me to see so much talent being wasted.”

The first challenge for Dias and Deepu was to find a way into MFA’s Elite Premier League. Usually, teams have to start in the lowest league and work their way up. Then Allan Contractor came to help them. His team, Atlanta FC, was already in the Elite League and he agreed to join Ambernath United.

With that done, it was time to build the roster. With Ambernath United already having some good players in their squad, things became easier for Dias.

“Apart from those who are already on the team, I’ve been scouting some games for quite a long time. I also have many friends who willingly agreed to be part of the setup. That being said, we have a mix of experience and youth,” Dias said.

Even though they only had a month to train before the tournament, Dias was very sure about what kind of football he wanted to play with his team.

“I’ve played under foreign coaches who like direct football, long balls etc. I knew I wanted the team to have possession, play short passes and dictate the game. These guys learn very quickly and that’s why we’re so successful,” said 38-year-old Dias.

“What I’ve done is, apart from the five core players, I re-pitch my team every game to give everyone a chance to show their talent. I don’t believe in being a coach who yells from the sidelines. I can empathize with the players and I know how difficult it is to play at this level. They have repaid my trust in them.

“We will definitely try to win every game in both the men’s and women’s leagues and that will be an achievement to be proud of.

“What makes us even prouder is that the spectators who came to the games told me that they like this football. It’s a huge advantage,” said Dias, who was part of the India squad that qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup.

Their men’s team has been so dominant that it’s no surprise that two of their players are battling for the league’s top scorer award. Alister Anthony has scored as many as 20 goals while Arif Shaikh has scored 17 goals.

Having won the Elite Premier League, they are already looking at what’s next for the team.

Deepu says their women’s academy is doing well and hopefully they will qualify for the Indian Women’s League. While the men’s team qualified for I-League 2, they hope the All India Football Federation (AIFF) will award them a direct I-League spot.

“We do everything professionally. Even the contracts we’ve awarded include bonuses for goals, assists and clean sheets. We also deduct money for indiscipline or unnecessary bookings,” Dias said. “Everything about our club is done professionally, even though we don’t have a sponsor.”

So where is the money coming from and how much is being spent per season?

Deepu, who has his own pharmaceutical company, sponsors all the teams and says he spends almost Rs 35,000 on the teams annually.

“We take good care of all our players and I’m sure they will take responsibility for that. I’m only doing this because of my passion for football,” he said, adding that age-group academies for girls and boys are also being planned.

When a person’s passion for football drives a team to win in such an amazing way, it shows that all is not lost for football in Mumbai.

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