Mumbai City FC, the league shield winners of this season will be facing the league shield winners of last season, Jamshedpur FC in a one-off playoff match to determine who will be representing India in the 2023 AFC Champions League group stages set to begin in September this year.
Coach Des Buckingham along with the captain Rahul Bheke attended a pre-match media interaction before flying to Kerala tomorrow where the game will take place in Manjeri’s Payyanad Stadium on Tuesday from 8:30 PM IST. Here are some of the quotations of them from the same.
Des shared his thoughts on their opponents Jamshedpur FC and his expectations from the match.
“Well Jamshedpur FC is a good team they showed that throughout the year. They certainly showed that against us twice and in the last 4-5 games at the end of the regular season when they found their groove and way of playing. They can cause us problems because they are a decent team. They have some great individuals and a good coach in Aidy, so we need to be at the top of our game and we need to do everything that we can pass ourselves from the position as we did in the league stages which was to come away with a draw at home and a win away against them.”
“We know how effective they were last year and did well to win the League. And this year, under Aidy they changed too much, but they’re very effective at what they do again. They have good players that when they have the ball, certainly can cause problems in many different areas. And yes defensively they are sound, they are well set up and organized. So, look, I’m expecting another exciting game against a very good team. But, again the focus will be on making sure that we do everything we can to put ourselves in the best position to come away with the result that we all want.”
A proud Des spoke about his team’s jubilant performances in the season so far.
“Obviously, we are a team that wants to be successful and there are many ways to define it. When I look back across the last 12 months, we finished in the second position in our champions league group stage, we made it to the durand cup final. We won the ISL league shield by being unbeaten up until that point and now we put ourselves in a position to try and qualify for the champions league again.
“So for me, it’s been an incredible year but it’s not the one we are finished with yet as we have this game and the super cup after which we are looking forward. In simple words, we are not finished yet and we know it’s a game we have to be at the top of ourselves and one we are very excited about playing.”
The Gaffer feels it will be a completely different game on Tuesday when compared with the previous clashes this season.
“There were two very different games they played. Something was not just those two games but 20 games or the 18th, particularly one on me and we had to find different ways to win those games or to perform is the most important because each team will come with different challenges. And we have to find different ways to try and play our way. And by also trying to get some success in terms of the results. So Yeah, I think we’ve shown that we can, but we’ve shown that all season, but that doesn’t count for anything going into this game.
“It’s making sure that you look at some level of mamba mentality of tryna, to do everything you can, as well as you can’t prepare yourself as well as count for what you’re about to pull into relief, everyone individually does that when you bring the team together, collectively you Hope the trust what we do, and how we do it, that’s enough, then to give you cross the line.”
Coach Buckingham feels it would have been better if the match was held right after the conclusion of the ISL rather than after a break.
“I think when you speak to footballers and coaches around the world they will always say that it will be nice to play this game off the back of a regular season, or off the back of this, the same goes for Jamshedpur I’m sure. We haven’t played in two and a half weeks ourselves, and Jamshedpur FC haven’t played for a longer period than that.
“So, I think these types of games would be nice to be able to play off the back of that rather than with a break. But it is what it is. We’ve done everything, we can to prepare ourselves. We had a small 5-6 Daybreak after the semi-finals. But the players have been back in training. Now for the last 12 to 14 days to try and do everything we can to get as ready as we can, for what will be a very tough challenge.”
Des believes that happy memories from their campaign last time will fuel them to qualify for it again.
“Yeah, I have spoken on this before the champions league is the highest level of club football, and to be able to go and do what we were fortunate to do last year, we were the only second Indian club to go to the champions league, and we were the first team to go and win the game. And not just win one, but win 2 games, we wanted to and manage to get a draw, as we look through the results of the six of the games. So that allows us to show that the players from here also can perform at that level, and Hopefully, what Indian players and what the league could do with this level of football.
“We’re also mindful of this could be the last opportunity for an Indian team to go to the Asian champions league for a couple of years. So we’ve had the hunger we’ve experienced. It’s a very exciting time to be part of and it’s one that, you know, the players that played in the last year, a very keen to try and do everything we can to put ourselves back in that position for, for next season, but we know it won’t be easy. Jamshedpur FC probably will try to do the same thing. It will be competitive and exciting for many reasons.”
Coach Des spoke about the side’s preparation ahead of the significant game.
“I think the preparation has been as good as it can be. We had to check and reshuffle a few things after the playoff. Yes. 5 players. Going with a national team is a wonderful achievement. Especially, it’s always nice to be called up to the national team, three of whom had already gone before. But certainly for the debutants like Mehtab and Purba to be called into their first experience, especially for Mehtab that took to the field.
“That’s a wonderful thing for him, but also for his family and the club to be able to send that many players to represent the country and learn to be successful was wonderful to sit here and watch this. So except for those five, that was away, everyone is back in training. Everybody is available and we’re training today and tomorrow before we fly out to Kerala.”
Coach Des felt that it would have been better had the playoff match been a two-legged affair.
“My understanding was that the game would be a two-legged of one game at home and one away. It was my understanding that at the start of the season. That seems to have changed. I’m not privy to the details as to why that is. But I don’t have any control over that neither does the playgroup. So we get on with it, we accept this a one-off match and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to try and win that one-off match.
“We don’t really have a choice about it so it doesn’t matter whether I am happy about it or not. We just get on with what we are told to get on with and do it as well as we can. That’s what I have done since I have been here and that’s what we will continue to do.”
Coach Buckingham has his eyes set only on the playoff game and he doesn’t want to look beyond that or the Super Cup.
“In terms of the Super Cup, we will be approaching the super cup and focusing on that once this game is done, this is the only thing at the moment we’re looking at that is very important that we don’t have passed it. I think there’s trust and confidence in what we do and if we can we can do that. It will pull off in the best position you can.”
Coach Des Buckingham was also joined by the defender and captain of the side, Rahul Bheke, who spoke about some of the questions that were directed toward him.
Bheke spoke about the break in between the end of ISL and the playoff game and if it has helped them prepare well.
“So it was an important break after the semifinal game and now all the players are back. We have been training for the last 12 days. Everyone is motivated and ready for this game. So this game is very important for us just like any other game. It’s important that we win this game and get qualified for the Champions League stage, so everyone is ready for that.”
Rahul is aware of the importance of the playoff game and the reward that’s at stake.
“Yeah, we all want to play at the highest level and this is the one stage where all the Indians dream of playing in the Champions League and experiencing it. So this is what we all have got that thing in our mind. We all are motivated and ready for this game because if you win this game, you will be again, getting an opportunity to play in the Champions League right in front of us.”
“So obviously, it’s in my mind also that I want to win this game and get back at the Champions League stage where we can do well again. So it’s important that we win this game and we get another chance to say that. So it’s very important for all the years to play the plague. We did last year, especially for the youngsters, so, that’s where we want to go.”
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