After leading Mumbai City FC to a more or less successful campaign last season where the team finished second in the AFC Champions League group stages and narrowly missed out on the ISL playoffs, 37-year-old head coach Des Buckingham wants his side to exhale in all the competitions the Islanders will take part in this season. Below are the excerpts from his exclusive interaction.
What do you make of your first full season in India as in charge of Mumbai City FC?
“I think we started very well in the league, we won five of the first six games and we played some really good football during the entire course of the season. Also, we finished the season extremely well with the AFC Champions League. I think we played the same style of football in the Champions League, which allowed Indian players, in particular, to showcase that we can not only compete at that level but can also win the matches at that level. To finish off the season second in the group stages of that competition and to get the points we achieved and to play the way we did was a pleasing thing. But, now it’s about pleasing altogether and making sure that we can do it throughout the whole season.”
Mumbai City FC have gone for tried and tested foreigners who have done well in the ISL previously. So was this a decision between you and the management or did it just happen?
“Our planning and recruitment started as far back as January of this year, as we brought in Chhangte and Vinit Rai. We have a way that we want to play and as part of that, we get player profiles and look for players that will fit our style of play and allow us to hopefully play in the way we want to play. As you know, I have experience in over 20 football seasons, and I have worked across the world in three different countries. So what I have observed is that in foreign recruitment sometimes it can take the players some while to settle in the new environment, country, and culture.
“So when I looked in the league there were great players like Alberto Noguera, Greg Stewart, and Jorge Pereyra Diaz and with the exception of Rostyn Griffiths with whom I have worked in the past. These players have not only settled in the country, but they have also performed consistently well. Obviously, we had the ability to bring in players from outside, but when I compared what these players have done in the league already, we removed the factor of uncertainty. So it made a lot of sense to bring in those players.”
How much impressed have you been with the signings?
“I am very much impressed with the signings we have done so far. It gives us different ways of playing especially in the final third. Now it’s about making sure that we finish a lot more of the chances that we create, and I feel we have now got the players that can contribute towards that. We had some good players last season, but we have signed some really good players this season in Stewart who scored ten goals and had ten assists last season, Alberto was a key player for FC Goa in the way they played and of course, Diaz with his link-up play with Luna and Vasquez. They have already demonstrated what they are capable of doing in the final third. Those three payers add more layers to the compliment we have in Bipin, Chhangte, and Vikram.”
As a club how important is the Durand Cup to you guys?
“It’s a competition that we want to do as well as we can, and firstly as players and coaches, you want to show how well you can play. And secondly, you would want to be successful by winning the competitions and taking the trophies home. It’s not a secret that we are a club that wants to do that, whether it’s the Durand Cup, the ISL, or even the AFC Champions League. From where we were last year to where we are this year, it’s a huge difference and improvement in terms of preparation. Also, I have been really pleased with the way we have played in the Durand Cup so far and how we stuck to our playing principles.
“We are taking the Durand Cup seriously, we went to Dubai for a three weeks training camp to prepare as well as we could for this competition, and we have brought our whole first team here. Firstly to perform as well as can in the Durand Cup and secondly to prepare ourselves for the Indian Super League. Thirdly, it’s our first time playing in the Durand Cup as a club and also it’s the oldest club competition in both India and Asia. So we want to respect that and try to do as well as we can in it.
This season onwards we will see a longer season for all the clubs in India. So how much of a positive impact is it for the players?
“I think when you look back it’s only the 9th season of the ISL. So for me, it’s still a developing league, and when I say developing I mean the competition which started out as a 2-3 months league and had a very limited amount of games. Now we are at a stage where we are running pretty much with the rest of Asia in terms of the number of games. So we will have an average of around 27 games if you consider the Durand Cup and possibly other competitions towards the end of the season.
It gives players more opportunities to play, and that’s what they want to do. We can train as much as we like but players want to show what they can do, and you can’t replace those experiences of playing with the training sessions. So my point of view is that development and progression of our players here, we want them to go and play at the highest level they can. Having an extended season, where they can play more games and where we can have more chances to work with them. It seems this season will be of around 8-9 months, so that’s a positive and wonderful thing for football in this country.”
The ISL is finally out of the bio-bubbles after two years. So how much excited are you to see the fans returning, and they will be at the Mumbai Football Arena supporting the team? How bigger of role do you think they will play in your team’s performance?
“It’s one of the main reasons why I came to India was to experience the different cities, the different cultures, and to have the bio bubble last year was a bit of a false environment because you could have been anywhere in the world all we could see was the hotels, training pitches and the stadiums which was unfortunately empty. I have already been stopped 3-4 times in the short walks I have had whilst I have been here. So I know how football-crazy fans can be here. To have them in the stadiums will be a wonderful thing whether it is in Mumbai or while experiencing different parts of the country.”
What can the fans expect from Mumbai City FC this season?
“Fans can expect us to play an exciting and attacking brand of football. We will be a team that wants to be successful and a team that will do everything we possibly can to put our players in the best position we can to help them not only develop and progress in their careers but also to bring further success to this football club. I am really looking forward for the season to begin, and it will be exciting for sure.”
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