Play. Win. Repeat. Champions. Welcome to the Antonio Habas and Mohun Bagan show

Antonio Habas, who had won the ISL Cup twice before, became the league's most decorated manager with the 2023-24 League Shield title. Debabrata Biswas/Focus Sports/ISL

Of course, they are champions. This is what Mohun Bagan do. Since 1911, they've been doing this: Play, win, repeat. Coming into Monday night, they needed a win over fellow title-challengers Mumbai City and they did just that. Liston Colaco twisted Mehtab Singh's blood and raised the roof at the Salt Lake. Jason Cummings showed off the finish of a predator late on. And then they held on when they were a man down, when Lallianzuala Chhangte gave City new life.

It all feels inevitable now -- of course Subasish Bose, a Bagan fan by birth and now his team's captain, would lift that league shield - but halfway through the season, it had been anything but.

For the uninitiated, a quick recap: Bagan started the 2023-24 season with Juan Ferrando as their head coach. They got off to a flyer in the ISL before an absolutely disastrous AFC Cup campaign (finishing bottom in their group) spilled over into the league where they suffered three losses on the trot, a run that saw Ferrando get the sack. To replace him, in came Antonio Habas, but he didn't take over immediately. Sitting in the stands he saw Bagan lose to East Bengal in the Super Cup and then saw Bagan's greatest rivals go onto lift the trophy. A spiraling league season and East Bengal winning silverware? That's about as big a no-no as there is in the green and maroon half of Bengal.

At the point it didn't look like Habas had much going for him. A pragmatist's pragmatist, Habas loves nothing more than a 1-0 but this was not a side built for that scoreline. Looking from the outside in, it was always pretty unbalanced as evidenced by Ferrando using Thapa as a holding defensive midfielder and it backfiring spectacularly. With that light a midfield, there was no way Habas would be able to settle on plan A. So he chose not to.

The last time he'd managed this side, then named ATK Mohun Bagan, he had abandoned his defensive principles and that had eventually led to his sacking (and replacing by Ferrando). But that wasn't Habas 2.0 as we'd thought. This is it.

His first match saw a wild draw in the derby. That had been a teaser, Habas adapting to an early Anwar Ali injury and East Bengal's surprising intensity by... well, going all out in attack.

Over the remainder of the season, that's what he continued to do. Playing youngster Abhishek Suryavanshi as defensive midfielder alongside the returning-from-injury Joni Kauko, both of them in front of a back three, he simply unleashed everyone else.

This novel 3-2-4-1 formation did the trick -- Ferrando had won six, drawn one and lost three in his 10 matches this season. Habas 2.0 (the real one) has won nine, drawn two and lost just once in his 12. By the end, Bagan ended with a record-breaking points tally (48), and they also ended as the league's top scorers (47).

Dimi Petratos had 16 goal contributions, of course he did, but it wasn't the Petratos show. Four others had more than 8 this season, and two of those stepped up big time when Habas really needed them on Monday. And in that we saw the man-management brilliance of Habas.

Liston, given unusual freedom in his more-than-a-wingback role in the system mucked up a couple of chances but created the piece of magic that set Bagan going. He'd not had a great couple of seasons under Ferrando, but Habas trusted him when it mattered most. A few drops to the bench kept the fire burning (as Colaco would admit after the City win) while the new-fangled system got the best out of him (and Manvir - both also stepping up massively in defensive transition). Cummings barely started towards the end of the season but his role coming on late has been invaluable - his speed and poaching instincts terrorizing tired defences the league over, just as it did City's on Monday. When big money signings play the role of impact sub this well, you know you've done something right.

Usually used to playing with a set XI, Habas has experimented with abandon: he's used 23 players in his 12 ISL matches this season, compared to 35 in 33 for ATKMB and 25 in 21 for ATK. Much of it may have been forced by injury, but the experimentation felt a deliberate plan, a ploy to get the whole squad involved. After the City win, Petratos would say that Habas' main job after taking over had been to make the squad "believe in each other". Going by the manner in which he would then address his teammates as "warriors" and "brothers", Habas has succeeded big time.

For the rest of the league, though, the scary part is that they're just getting started. Liston, man of the moment, signed off his post-match interview with a telling line: "Now one part is done, one more part is remaining." The ISL League shield is finally theirs, they are now coming for that ISL Cup. That's the kind of mentality that makes Bagan the winning-est club in Indian football, the kind that makes Habas the most successful ISL manager of all time.

Play, win, repeat. That's just what they do.