Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham spoke in the media interaction after leading his side to the group stages of the 23/23 season AFC Champions League. The Islanders have been placed in Group D along with ISL side Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United FC. It also includes the I-League’s lone representative Churchill Brothers FC Goa who made it through the qualifiers by thrashing Real Kashmir FC.
Des Buckingham’s Mumbai City FC kickstart their Hero Super Cup campaign on Tuesday against Churchill Brothers FC as the Islanders look to add some further silverware to their trophy cabinet by 25th April. Below are the excerpts from the same ahead of their opening game.
Des spoke on the decision which led them to field an all-Indian side in the Hero Super Cup.
“It was a nice trip in the end and we’re very happy to be able to go and represent, not just the club, but Indian football, in the Champions League again next year, after winning, the game against Jamshedpur. So the thinking was, I’ve spoken about this since I arrived at the club about wanting the best Indian players and to be able to develop those Indian players as well as we could, and then you know a large core of that Group that we have still, that will go to this tournament, featured heavily have been a large part to the reason as to why we’ve been successful this year.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to go and really see and offer further development opportunities and time to not just the group that have played, but also some of those younger players that may get an opportunity, or maybe get some more game time to see what they can do. And that was a decision that we took to come into ties to what we spoke about since I arrived, which was trying to develop and give a platform to these players to showcase what they can do, and this tournament certainly presents us with an opportunity to do that.”
He also added on what difference it will make in the team’s performance after the exclusion of foreign players from the team for the ongoing Super Cup.
“Yes, it will obviously be a bit different for us because you know, the foreign players of which you can only field four anyway, the foreign players do make a difference. But I’ve spoken about trying to build this club, certainly in the last two years by having and developing Indian players and we would want those best players here for don’t have them, we try to develop them Vikram is someone that you’ve mentioned, there was a probably a good example of that.”
“So I’m really excited to see, you know, we’ve spent two years working with most of those players now. They understand what we do and how we do it, but we haven’t yet been able to see if we can do it without foreign players. Even though players have contributed so well in so heavily to the success that we’ve had. So, I’m excited to see what we can do and excited to see what these players can now produce against what will be three, very good teams in the group stage.”
The tactician feels that the Indian players won’t find it as a pressure on their shoulders to perform without the foreigners.
“I spoke in the season about every single one of them that will take to the field in the Super Cup they’ve all featured at some point during the ISL Season. So all of them have taken to the field anyway. So they have all trained with us the whole season every single day. They’ve all had a taste of ISL some more than others, of course. But this presents a great opportunity for them to have more time and impact.”
“I’m now excited to see with more game time which they’ll certainly get in this competition, and what they can do with more time. So yes, it’s what I’m looking forward to, and it’s one certainly another young players are looking forward to. But, as I said, they’re surrounded and will be surrounded by some very experienced, younger, and older Indian players that will hopefully allow us to all be successful.”
Des spoke on maintaining the balance between developing the players and also delivering results in the games.
“We’ve never spoken even throughout the season, whether it was the Champions League, Durand Cup, or the ISL season. We’ve never spoken about winning the competition. The biggest thing we focused on is a performance, firstly, individual performances, and if you can do that as a collective, you know, then the collective performance of the team. So, yes, there is a balance between development and results, but we’re a big believer in we’ve got a way that we work, and like I said before if players can understand that, and hold themselves to their standards and really try and push themselves to see what we can do with show the results, that that can bring both this season in across three or four different tournaments. So, that will be the main focus will be on the performance, whether it’s the older senior Indian players that we have or whether it’s the young guys that will come in, but the thing will be, they know what they need to do and how they need to do it. And then it’s an opportunity for them to really showcase what they can do for now, and hopefully for the future.”
Coach Buckingham assured that no way is Mumbai City FC taking the Super Cup lightly.
“As I said it’s the fifth different tournament we played in 12 months, so clubs will approach each of those however they want to. If you think we’re taking this tournament lightly then I can assure you you coming to this playing group and you see how the staff are preparing for this tournament. It’s not one we are taking lightly. We want to be successful, and we think we have the squad that they’re can first challenge the group in what will be a tough challenge it’s interesting to see how far we can go in any tournament in football. So, yeah, I understand people will make their own opinions on what is right or wrong. But for us, it’s a club. And what we want to try and do both short-term and long-term, this is a wonderful opportunity to really see what our Indian players, young and old can do together. Whilst also trying to still challenge and not take this competition lightly. It’s just a different way of looking to do it.”
The gaffer shed some light on the side’s preparation for the Hero Super Cup.
“We have prepared this team the same way as we did for the ISL game, Durand Cup game, and the AFC Champions League game that we’ve had before. We know they have had some change certainly since the league season finished for them, and they have obviously played that qualifying game, which we were able to watch and get a feel for what they may do against us. But as always, the will be as prepared as we think, we can be for that game, for what they may throw our way, but the same as the rest of the season, it’s going to be making sure that we’re as prepared to as we can be in terms of having control of what we have here to try to do what we want, which is to continue playing a very attacking brand of football, and exciting brand of football and giving these players a really good platform to go and showcase what they’re capable of doing. Whether it be against a very strong I-League team or against the two ISL teams, which will soon follow.”
Des spoke about the Islanders’ group-stage opponents in Group D.
“Yes, it was an enjoyable and successful season for all of us here. But again this is the fifth tournament in 12 months that we played in. So I think the ISL season is done and teams will approach this tournament differently, so we’ll take, learnings, from it certainly because, yes, those two teams we have played, but I look at Northeast and it’s been a lot of changes there, so it’d be interesting to see what they do, and how they set up. And we know Chennaiyin, they have given us two very good games, certainly the game that we had at home. And they’re going full strength with everybody. So, it’s a really good test and opportunity for us to try to set up and be successful in this tournament as we have been throughout the year.”
Buckingham feels that with so many tournaments running around the year, it will ultimately only benefit the progress of football in India.
“I think It’s great. You know whether it’s a tournament it gives us extra games and I know teams will and can approach different phases with different purposes. Now this gives us more games on to what is already been when we started back. When I first before I come to India, you know, I used to hear the stories of The League being two or three months old. We started back in pre-season in the middle of July last year. So we’re now 10 Months into a season with games still ongoing, and it’s a positive sign for the development of the game.”
“I don’t know how many games we have played this year, but the beauty of that is, it gives you an opportunity not only to really look at the players that you have, but it gives players the opportunity to show what they can do because you can train as much as you want, but the opportunity to compete against your peers in any competition, whether it’s in India or outside, that’s really where you’re tested. And that’s the one thing I’m really looking forward to seeing. And to me, whether it’s the Durand Cup which was at the start of the season, ISL or the playoff games, or as it is now the super cup. I’m sure there’s nothing more enjoyable, than for the players to play again rather than train.”
The head coach praised his side’s captain for his effective service throughout the season on all fronts.
“Yes, Rahul leads the side. And I think anyone that captain’s not just the club, but serving the club and the area that they grew up in is what, it’s a wonderful thing for him and his family. But this isn’t the first time, he’s done this season and before. You know, this season, in particular when Mourtada Fall hasn’t taken to the field Rahul has worn the armband and led the team, and led extremely throughout what’s been a very successful season. So it’s a very good role model for everyone, not just the young players but everyone that we have within our squad and that’s the reason he carries the armband because he represents, not just the players, he represents the staff, he represents what we’re about as a club. And he is leading us to the Super Cup and hopefully, it will allow us to have some further success down the line.”
Here are some questions that were asked regarding the team’s next AFC Champions League campaign.
Mumbai City FC became the first Indian team to qualify for the AFC Champions League group stages twice in a row. Coach Des spoke about the prolific consistency maintained by the club in achieving this feat.
“I think it’s a wonderful achievement for the club. I think we worked hard to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to consistently try and have success. And again, I’ve again successful look like different things to different people, and only in the first team space, you are judged on the results. But we know sometimes that performances don’t necessarily guarantee your result. So we’ve got different sorts of measures that we hold ourselves to. To be able to go back to back in the Champions League it’s extremely exciting for everyone involved.”
“And if we can go and put on the same account that we did last year and we’ll try and do more, we always will try and push ourselves to get better, but it’s an opportunity for our players to go really showcase what they can do again on that stage of, you know what, it’s the highest level of Of club football in Asia. So from a couple of players’ points of view, you want to play against the best and test yourself at that level. And from a coaching point, I certainly want to go and test myself against those coaches. There is one again, and that allows us to do that.”
Des feels it’s a disgrace that AFC is limiting the number of teams in the AFC Champions League from next season, which will also result in India losing its spot in the pinnacle competition for club football in the Asian continent.
“I think it’s a shame. Yes, because when you look at our football development now in the country the ISL just finishing off its ninth season, so it’s still is come a long way. It’s come a very long way to have the opportunity to go and play at the top level of competition in Asia which the Champions League gives you is a wonderful pathway to be able to then go and see how good you can be on that stage. And when I look at the two teams that have gone in the two opportunities we have had while we’ve had the opportunity to look at Goa when they went the first time, in year one, they performed very well, come away with three draws in the first time without anyone knowing what that level of competition would look like from an Indian side. And they put a very good account of themselves across in each of those games. And we went last year and I’d like to think we were able to really showcase, and I’m not just winning one game, but winning two and getting the draws, we actually got results in three of the six games and finished second in their group.”
“So, in terms of only having two opportunities, so far, what will be the third one? Again, we will go and try and do as well as we can, of course. But when Indian teams have had the opportunity to go to that level, they’ve shown what Indian football can do whether it was a goa before or us last year. So it’s a shame that won’t be there in the foreseeable future. But, I hope that there’s an opportunity in the in a not too distant future for that to come back onto the table and be a real pathway for teams to progress into. Whether it’s us, or it’s other teams in this league because I look across the league now with and I’m not just the foreign players but with the development of the league going into its tenth season next year, and I see some wonderful players and to have the opportunity to showcase what they can do on that stage. I think it’s great for the benefit of not just themselves, but for Indian football.”
The gaffer doesn’t feel that losing the spot to compete in the Champions League for the next couple of years will also limit the club’s high ambitions.
“It doesn’t limit where we think it should be. I think it’s just a shame that it’s gone away for the time being. But then again, we need to make sure that we do everything we can of spoken about just making sure we build this club up and we develop it in a way that allows players to develop and allows us to be as good as we can be. And, you know, the next level of the highest level of competition. After the season will be the AFC Cup and the group stages of that competition. So we will continue to try and strive towards that and there as much as we can to be successful at that level. And hopefully in the not-too-distant future. When the Champions League comes back on the table, for the qualification, you know, we can be amongst those clubs that challenge again to try and get back into that level of the competition.”
“For me and for what we are trying to do we want to challenge ourselves at the highest level we can. And right now the opportunity in the Champions League is the highest level we can. Now, you know, after this season, the opportunity disappears, and hopefully not for long. And then the AFC Cup competition will be that level of competition for not just us, but for everybody else. So we will go and enjoy this last experience for now. And then, you know, whatever the future looks like. But we will always try if we can challenge ourselves against the best because that’s the only way you’re going to develop and get better. Whether that’s the Champions League or in the future AFC Cup.”
Coach Des responded to a question thrown at him about whether making it out of the group stages will be the real target of the club in the Champions League next season.
“That’s funny when we went last year. I think the people were worried it was only the second time of course, after goa a team had gone. And when you don’t get the opportunity to go over some time, there’s always uncertainty in your insurance still, should you do well, or should you not do well? Because if you’re not sure the levels, you’re competing against and I think when we went people were a little bit concerned that we might not do very well, but then the narrative seem to change towards the end there was disappointment that we hadn’t got out of the group. So it was a nice narrative change.”
“We know the level of competition, we will go into. It’s very high, it’s very tough, and if we can first replicate if we can get close to replicating what we did the last time it’ll be a wonderful achievement. But we will be striving as we did the last time we went. We will be striving to do as much as we can and if our performance can be as good as they were with a different Squad going into next year, we’ll do as much as we can to get as many points as we can to get ourselves then a little bit further and deeper into that tournament than what we did last time, but I think last time was only a point, the reaction missed out on actually progressing through.”
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