Mumbai City FC, the ISL League Shield winners of last season, will begin their new season with a full-strength squad in the 2023 Durand Cup ahead of their first group stage match against Mohammedan on the 5th of August in Kishore Bharati Krirangan. The team had been on a two weeks pre-season tour in Thailand before they arrived in Kolkata at the start of Asia’s oldest-ever football tournament.
The gaffer sees the Durand Cup competition as a test and preparation for the important season ahead which lies in the form of the Indian Super League, Federation Cup, and most significantly the AFC Champions League where for India’s last time, Mumbai City FC will want to leave a good footprint.
Coach Des Buckingham expressed his thoughts on the upcoming season
“It’s another exciting season for us. This is my third year at the club, and we want to build up on what we did last year and the records that we broke. The manner that we went about breaking those records and achieving what we did was the most pleasing thing for me. So it’s the continuing trying to get better as a club and trying to get better in terms of how we play, I want to continue to try to push all these players to see how far we can actually get them to improve upon in their career.”
“We were able to see them showcase the football that they’re capable of playing if they get the platform and the framework is put around them and they’re supported last season. So it’s very much about just trying to improve on what we did last year. And we’ve spent the last two and a half weeks trying to do that to prepare ourselves well for what will certainly be an exciting Durand Cup.”
Des Buckingham spoke on their challenges in the Durand Cup group
“We played them last year, and Mohammedan gave us a very good game and took us to the 80 to 90 minute to actually score the winner that put us through to the final. So we know that they’re a good team. Despite that, they’ve changed some of the players and coach now. We know that they have been playing well in the local league. And then, they’ve got the addition of the foreign players that they have changed coming into this year.”
“So we’re expecting a very challenging opponent, and they’re a very good I-league team. And I’m sure they are one that is contesting again to try their best and come up into the Indian Super League through the promotions in the next year.”
“And then of course, we face Jamshedpur and then we face the Navy afterward and again, two teams that we are familiar with, with our exploits against them last year regardless of the team that they will bring. And then of course the Navy who we played in the first game last year. So first and foremost is Mohammedan and making sure we’re prepared and that’s as much as we’ve looked at. But again we are expecting three very tough games and it gives us a chance to try & start well as we did last year.”
Des Buckingham spoke on the chances of all Indian forward lines in future
“Yeah, the Super Cup was good, wasn’t it? It was the approach that we took to try and showcase that doesn’t necessarily need to be foreign players. I was very happy with the performances that we put in at the Super Cup. So it doesn’t matter whether they are across the front line, the reality is seven of the eleven that take the field every week, every game are Indian players. And we’ve even played last year with more than that in our starting lineup.”
“We’ve also finished games with a full Indian lineup. So to me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Indian or foreign. It’s about making sure that you put the right players on the pitch to play the style of football we want. And then it’s up to those players to showcase what they can do. And that’s the pleasing thing that got us through and let us be as successful as we’re in the ISL and Super Cup.”
Des spoke on what led Mumbai to sign Akash Mishra
“Everybody knows the quality that Akash possesses. He was able to demonstrate that for a couple of seasons over his time with Hyderabad and obviously broke into the Indian National Team and held down that starting spot. It’s not about just going and picking the best player and of which there are several across teams that were coming off a contract especially, it’s about making sure that we select players that fit the style of football we want and fit the player profile that we have here to allow them to come in and contribute towards what we want as a team.”
“And secondly, from a development standpoint, he fits so many of the boxes that we look for, young, he’s 21, defensively very strong. But in terms of an attacking sense, as well will offer us something different this year that we felt we needed. The main reason was to try and make sure that we can continue getting better as a team. And the second is, again, part of the reason I was brought here was to develop the Indian players in our place in particular, and he (Akash) certainly fits that profile.”
Coach Des Buckingham spoke on Lallianzuala Chhangte’s evolution
“It’s around trying to replicate the form of last year. It wasn’t a two or three-month period where he was good and then dipped. It was a very consistent period of time, which I would say 12 months, that those performances have been what everybody has seen them to be. So for me, it’s not about replicating that form. It’s now the norm that I’m sure he expects and now the norm that we expect.”
“But again, now it’s going to be a different development approach, it’s making sure he continues to do everything as he has done and he is still doing to make sure we can replicate that. It’s about finding solutions to other problems that will come up because people would have seen what he did last year and the impact that that had and they’ll come up with different ways to try and stop that. And not just him, but obviously us as a team. So it’s going to be a different development strategy.”
Des summed up the team’s pre-season tour in Thailand
“Well, we played a couple of games and it was a nice way to finish. We went to Thailand the same way we went this time last year to Dubai for preseason, and we’re very supportive of it because obviously, the monsoon rains in Mumbai make it very difficult to do anything on the fields. We went this year, and we had everybody with us from the start. And that’s so important for what we want to do, we must make sure that we try to do together everything we do.”
“It was only two weeks in Thailand, but it allowed us just to revisit the good work that we did last year, because we know we need to get better this year, there’ll be different things that we need to do. But it’s important that we reflect and work on what we did well last year because it was a hugely successful season for many reasons.”
“And then also look at the areas we want to improve for this year. We spent the first two weeks in Thailand, with wonderful facilities, a nice hotel, and awesome people who looked after us, to try and just reflect on and remind players that we’ve set up a large bulk of our players are still from here from last year, and maybe the year before. We’ve got a couple of new additions that it was nice to introduce them to what we did and how we did it. And now it’s going to be about adding to that.”
“Now it’s about adding to that to making sure that hopefully, we get success, but making sure that at the end of the Durand Cup, we are in the best position we can be to start our season because our first game will not be an ISL game. It will be an AFC Champions League game. It was a very worthwhile trip and one that hopefully puts us in the same position that we faced this time last year.”
Des Buckingham on whether the fans can expect any more potential incomings.
“That’s finished. We did our recruitment very early and tried to do as much as we could before. We made seven new signings. So although there’s only been three, or four, in terms of senior players coming in this season, we’ve actually signed seven of what I would say class signings.”
“It was to make sure that we retain the services of the players we had because we’ve spent a lot of time with them. People are always going to move on for different reasons. But when we are able to secure those seven, as well as the others that are already signed, and bring in others that will hopefully complement what we do. And I’m hopeful that that’s what Tiri will do. And that’s what Yoel will do. And of course, we also brought in Jayesh.”
“But a lot of that, the planning, was done early. I’m very happy with all the recruits that we’ve been able to do as it allows us to have everyone here from day one. So there is no planned business further for us to bring anyone more at the moment although I know the window is open.”
Des on possibilities of giving playing time to youngsters in the Durand Cup.
“Yeah, it’ll be a continuation of the Super Cup. You know, for young players, it’s one thing getting an opportunity, but we don’t just give players game time because it may cost regular starters. The players have to work hard to get the opportunity to come on the field. And then they get the chance to showcase what they can do. And that was where the Super Cup was very useful for us because it allowed us, players like Halen, and Ayush, who had also scored his first goal.”
“Those two in particular are young players that hadn’t really featured in the first team. So they would want to come in and show that not only were they capable of that, but they can really contribute towards what we do.”
“And when I look at what we’ve signed last year, Nikhil, then we’ve obviously got Nathan at left-back, and we’ve brought Franklin in midfield. So we’ve gone and looked at succession planning, but also, we’ve signed these players for the long term where they can train alongside a chance to work alongside Griffiths and Mehtab.”
“If the conditions are right, and they’ve worked hard, then there’s the opportunity of course. We’ve shown we’re not worried about giving young players or any players for the matter, the opportunity to take to the field, whilst also being mindful that we need to make sure we approach this competition with the respect it deserves.”
“The purpose of what we’re here is to prepare our first team for the rank-up, but also for the start of the season. So yes, the young players will get an opportunity, but they need to work for it. And if they can contribute to us progressing as far as we can both in this tournament and make sure we’re prepared for the season, then it’s a win-win for all.”
Lallianzuala Chhangte on his performance last season
“Yeah, I think it has been a really good season. Think it’s because of God’s grace and I will try to do my best to replicate the performance that I had last season. I know it’s going to take a lot of sweat, hard work determination and, dedication. But with God’s grace and help, and with the help of my teammates, I think I can do even better individually and as a team. But most importantly, I want to win the title for the team rather than just ticking my personal targets. So we’ll try our best.”
Expectations from this season and in the Durand Cup
“Well, yeah, I think it’s going to be like the coach mentioned already. Lots of players are going to come hard on me. But I think and I’ve seen, especially the past two weeks, we’ve got a good squad, especially the players playing around me were very helpful. And we’ve been gelling up very well. So I think there won’t be a problem going forward. But most importantly, I cannot be complacent or even satisfied. I think I have to push the boundaries to get even better. This is what I’m trying to do this season. And yeah, the Durand Cup Golden Boot and ISL Golden Ball, let’s aim for another one.”
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