After winning the League Shield and the Indian Super League (ISL) title in the 2020-21 season, expectations were high from Mumbai City FC coming into the new campaign. However, it was a disappointing domestic run for the Islanders as they couldn’t qualify for the ISL semifinals after failing to reach the top four in the ISL. But the ISL is a past chapter, and Mumbai City have a new journey to look forward to in the AFC Champions League in Riyadh.
Ahead of Mumbai City FC‘s first game in the AFC Champions League group stage against Al-Shabab FC, coach Des Buckingham alongside vice-captain Mandar Rao Desai addressed the media through a virtual press conference from Riyadh. Below are their excerpts from the press conference.
Des Buckingham spoke about what can be considered a successful campaign for the team in the group stages.
“This is only the second time a club from India has been part of the AFC Champions League. Goa played last year and they had drawn three matches and collected three points. So they had shown everyone what Indian clubs and players can do at this level. We are going to do something which no other Indian club has done before, which is to win a game in the AFC Champions League.
“I will consider that as a relative success and history for us in the competition. We know we are representing not just the city of Mumbai but the whole of India.”
Mumbai City had a preparatory camp in Abu Dhabi where they played two friendly games. Des Buckingham spoke on how the two wins in those games will benefit the team mentally ahead of the AL-Shabab game.
“Al Ain played an extremely strong team against us. They only had four players missing on international duty. What they gave us was an opportunity to show our players the level of competition here and also a chance to test themselves. The second game against Al Hilal United gave us a chance to try out some of the shapes and structures and tidy up leading up to the Champions League.”
Des Buckingham spoke about if the team will play a different style of football considering the strong opposition.
“Yes, when we play in different competitions we have to adapt to the strength of other teams. For reference, Goa had over 70% possession and out-possessed every team when they played in the ISL season before participating in the Champions League. While they were playing in Asia they could hardly manage around 40% possession. This is due to a huge gap between the level of ISL and ACL.
“So we have to be very smart about how we approach the games in the Champions League, but we won’t defend for the whole 90 minutes. We have prepared for those situations for the past couple of weeks and we will try to maintain a structure so that we can capitalize on the limited goalscoring chances we get.”
Rowllin Borges, who missed the ISL campaign due to a knee injury, is currently with the Mumbai City FC camp. Des Buckingham spoke about him and his contribution to the team.
“Unfortunately, Rowllin won’t play any of the six games. He has joined the group here first to make sure he can continue a good rehabilitation under our staff because he is still one or two months away from returning to the pitch. We want him to recover and get back to his full fitness at the earliest because he is an important player for us.
“The second reason why we brought him here was that he is the vice-captain alongside Mandar so he plays a significant role in helping the dynamic of our group and his experience helps the team a lot, and also the young players look up to him. So he won’t take part in the games but he will contribute behind the scenes that will help us perform better in the games.”
Des Buckingham spoke about the reason why Indian clubs cannot perform well in Asian competitions.
“The Indian Super League is still in its infant stage, just 8th season since its inception. The teams in AFC Champions League teams are very good teams, and they are also very well resourced. The quality of football is better than ours. If we look across the squads, the level is a lot higher.
“The teams have not just been performing well in their respective leagues, but consistently playing these competitions where they get to compete against the best. So, it will be a challenge for us. But I feel that is not a problem but an exciting opportunity for our players to compete at that level and show what they are capable of.”
Des Buckingham shared his verdict on the opponent Al-Shabab FC.
“Al Shabab have a monetary value of players 5-6 times more than us. That puts the match-up into context. But you cannot afford to look at that and give up. The teams that we will come up against are the best in Asia, so it will be exciting to face this challenge. We have many players who haven’t competed at this level before. We know we have to be smart but at the same time we need to find a structure that allows us our style of play.”
Below are the excerpts of the defender and vice-captain Mandar Rao Desai.
Mandar spoke about Mumbai’s mental preparation ahead of facing some of the strongest Asian clubs.
“The mental preparation for these games is different here. The quality and the playing standard in this league are much higher compared to the Indian Super League and thus the players are naturally excited for the upcoming games”
Mandar spoke about the team’s performance in the recently concluded ISL season and also the team’s aspirations in the AFC Champions League.
“We gave our best in the season but could not get the desired result. But now, everyone is excited about the Champions League and we want to perform to the best of our ability.”
Mandar shared his insights about his role in mentoring the youngsters and their mood in the camp.
“All the young players are really excited to play and give their best. The most important thing is that they always want to learn new things. They listen to not only me but all the senior players. All of us guide them in our own ways and even when they make mistakes, we encourage them. Going into the competition, we might not have a lot of ball possession but it is our job as seniors to motivate them and help them do well for us,”
Mandar spoke about the short break after the end of ISL and the beginning of ACL and how it helped the players refresh mentally after a tiring season inside the ISL bubble.
“We were in a bubble for six months and players needed to get mentally refreshed if nothing more and to go and spend some time with their families. I think the same goes for the staff. So the break helped because when we got back to Abu Dhabi, the disappointment of last season didn’t reflect much on the players and staff and it was about not looking behind but what lies ahead of us.”
Below is the Mumbai City FC Squad for the AFC Champions League;
Goalkeepers: Phurba Lachenpa, Mohammad Nawaz, Ravi Kumar, Vikram Lakhbir Singh.
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Amey Ranawade, Mehtab Singh, Mohamad Rakip, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, Mourtada Fall, Valpuia, Mandar Rao Desai.
Midfielders: Cassio Gabriel, Bradden Inman, Ahmed Jahouh, Raynier Fernandes, Rowlin Borges, Vinit Rai, Naorem Tndomba Singh, Chanso Horam, Asif Khan, Apuia Ralte.
Forwards: Vikram Partap Singh, Gurkirat Singh, Igor Angulo, Pranjal Bhumij, Bipin Singh, Diego Mauricio, Lallianzuala Chhangte.
Here are the Group Stage Fixtures of Mumbai City FC;
08th April: Mumbai City vs Al-Shabab, Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium (10:45 PM)
11th April: Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya vs Mumbai City, King Fahd International Stadium (10:45 PM)
14th April: Al Jazira vs Mumbai City, King Fahd International Stadium (10:45 PM)
18th April: Mumbai City vs Al Jazira, King Fahd International Stadium (10:45 PM)
23rd April: Al-Shabab vs Mumbai City, Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium (01:45 AM)
27th April: Mumbai City vs Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, King Fahd International Stadium (01:45 AM)
Follow our website for all the latest updates on Indian and Asian Football.