Forlan flick offers Indian Super League hope to freefalling Mumbai

Highlights: Pune City 0-1 Mumbai City (2:32)

All the highlights from the Maharashtra Derby between FC Pune City and Mumbai City FC in their opening game of ISL 2016. (2:32)

One of the prominent elements of the logo of Indian Super League (ISL) side Mumbai City FC is the local train, often considered the lifeblood of India's financial capital. It unites rich and poor, young and old by the millions every single day in a Mumbaikar's life.

Another thing you must know about Mumbaikars is that they hate to lose. There's a word khadoos often used to describe the city's cricketers, which loosely translates to "stubborn" or even "rude, snobbish" -- that second description comes from the internet and should be taken with a pinch of salt -- who have dominated domestic cricket like no other state or city.

Mumbai's footballers haven't done too badly for themselves either, with Maharashtra (or Bombay as the team used to be called up to the 1970s) having reached the most finals of the Santosh Trophy for the national championship after record-makers Bengal. Mumbai has had a rich heritage of supplying international footballers to the Indian national team, including the late great Neville D'Souza, whose hat trick at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics helped India flatten hosts Australia to make a historic semifinal appearance.

All of that history has counted for nothing in the two seasons of the ISL, where Mumbai have been perennial underachievers. They have also traditionally begun poorly, and only shown sporadic bursts of brilliance thereafter. If in 2014, Atletico de Kolkata put in a convincing 3-0 performance against them in the first ISL match in history, 2015 was just as forgettable, as a Frederic Piquionne goal was the only consolation in a 3-1 defeat away to their Maharashtra rivals FC Pune City in the opening match for both sides.

If they could be ridiculous in some games, they could be sublime in others as well, and few know it as well as Pune, who were at the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering in the opening season. Last year, the same team that collapsed away to FC Goa in a record 7-0 defeat was also unstoppable in beating NorthEast United 5-1 at home.

That is the match that now appears next for Mumbai at their new home, the Mumbai Football Arena. NorthEast United will be glad that their chief tormentor from 2015 Sunil Chhetri will be out because of his AFC Cup commitments with his I-League club Bengaluru FC, but they will be wary of the guile and the influence of a certain Diego Forlan, whose greatest contribution on the opening night for Mumbai City on Monday was perhaps being just as ubiquitous as he needed to be as a marquee.

Mumbai have suffered terrible luck in this regard in the past two seasons. If 2014 was forgettable for a largely-unfit Freddie Ljungberg failing to lift the spirits of a side that just couldn't string together any consistency, Nicolas Anelka's influence as player-manager was even harder to understand. He played in games when he needn't have, seemed ill at ease when utilising or even acknowledging the quality of Chhetri, and saw his assistant Oscar Bruzon and 2014's only hat trick scorer Andre Moritz both storm out of the squad.

To be fair, Forlan has never been known to create any massive stirs within teams that he played for, and in that regard, it would be no surprise if he provides a healing touch to the Mumbai City team this season. Chhetri might take some time to return to the team, and in that meantime he will be expected to be the talisman of the side, a role that he might enjoy.

He showed glimpses of that on Monday night, his off-the-ball movements creating openings for midfielders and even full-backs to attack the Pune defence. It was also Forlan's touch, nothing more than a flick of his heel, off a cross from Aiborlang Khongjee which appeared to wrong-foot the Pune defence and opened up space for Matias Defederico to slot home the winner.

When Forlan was taken off soon after the only goal of the night, it was instructive to see his body language on his way back to the bench. His younger teammates looked on with a mixture of excitement, gratitude and awe. Forlan acknowledged them all, and his demeanour showed genuine warmth and camaraderie.

For a team that went 13 ISL away matches without winning one, and now have two on the bounce -- they beat Atletico de Kolkata 3-2 in an inconsequential final league game under Anelka last December -- rediscovering touch with their inner khadoos might not be a bridge too far after all.

And in doing that, they might have a little flick from Forlan.