The Islanders’ tactician also responded to Stephen Constantine’s ‘expensive squad’ remark at the club.

Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham has acknowledged that a mini-break came at the right time for the Islanders this season. The Islanders face off against Chennaiyin FC at the Mumbai Football Arena (MFA) on Saturday. Amongst other things, Buckingham opened up about the challenges that rest ahead of them in the second half of the campaign and also spoke about what it takes for a player to break into the playing XI in Mumbai City’s pretty talent-rich squad.

Mid-season break

“We wanted to start the season as well as we could., we spoke a lot about trying to continue on from where we left off in the Champions League. We used the Durand Cup to try and be as successful as we could, we made the final, which allowed us to give us seven games to try and prepare ourselves and start the season well,” the head coach said.

He added, “To have a small break, nine games out of 20, is almost mid-season for us and for other players to spend time going back and seeing families and friends and almost refreshing and rejuvenating. I think it just gives them a little bit more of a lift and we have certainly that on the three occasions that we have done that.”

Buckingham asserted that the players are ‘fit, fresh and ready’ to take on the second part of the season strongly.

Stephen Constantine’s judgment of Mumbai City FC

The tactician spoke at length on East Bengal coach Stephen Constantine’s remark on Mumbai’s arguably substantial transfer budget and the abundance of national team starters in their setup. Des Buckingham took on these comments armed with facts and affirmed that the previous national team squad had only a couple of players from the Mumbai City roster.

“I would like to think, whenever I try to speak of other teams – firstly, I am respectful and second thing, if I do speak, is factual. Because, sometimes narratives can be set from the comments that I give and if they are not factual, it leads to a lot of things, because it takes the attention away from a young 24-year-old goalkeeper, who is making his first season in the ISL and doing very well,” Buckingham said.

He added, “When you look at the last Indian squad that was selected, it had two players from our club. We were one of the lowest in terms of players that were selected to go on to represent the team. It’s important to me that when those comments were made, it doesn’t really affect us because internally we know what we are doing and how we are doing it. But I would like to think that the general football public and the knowledge out there will be able to see through some of these comments as well.”

Have Chennaiyin FC improved from their previous encounter against Mumbai City?

The Islanders thrashed Chennaiyin FC 6-2 in their away fixture earlier this season. Since then, the Marina Machans have won and drawn twice each in five games – including a 7-3 victory against the hapless NorthEast United FC. Des Buckingham was probed whether he has noted any improvements in Chennai’s performances since their last faceoff.

“I have seen an improvement in all other teams including ourselves. I think you get that through every game that you play. You are able to work on certain things that maybe you cannot get out of training. More time on the training ground obviously helps. Teams get better with more games that they get to play. I think we have seen that in the last season of the ISL. The games become more competitive and I expect that again this year,” the 37-year-old responded.

He added, “That’s our challenge now, to make sure that we get better and that we can continue progressing the way we want.”

What it takes to break into the Mumbai City FC starting line-up?

Mumbai certainly have a fantastic squad depth to the extent that quality internationals like Mourtada Fall and Alberto Noguera do not end up starting many games. This means that several young domestic players in the squad must be dealing with a paucity of game-time as well, case in point, Mohammed Asif Khan.

The academy graduate has been in and around the first-team squad for long but has been unable to make it to the playing XI regularly. Des Buckingham was asked whether players like him could get a look-in as the season progresses.

“We have got a very mixed squad in terms of ages. We have a 24-year-old goalkeeper, a 24-year-old Indian center back (Mehtab), Vignesh (Dakshinamurthy) is 23. Apuia is 22, (Lallianzauala) Chhangte is 24 and Vinit Rai is 24. So we still have a relatively young squad. So yes, players will get opportunities to play.

“But while the team are playing the way they are, at senior level, it’s based on performances and that’s important that those young players firstly are able to learn to after these senior players or these younger players within our squad,” the head coach explained.

Developing players

“We have said we want to be a club that develops and recruits the best younger players. I would like to think that in the last 12-24 months, some of the younger players here have not only had the opportunity but have gone in and if they have done well, they have stayed in. I think it is pretty reflective of our squad right now.

“Those who haven’t yet got on, or haven’t got as many minutes, it’s important when they come on that they take that opportunity to ensure that they can. Because, if I use Vikram as an example. Vikram has come on in the last few games and done extremely well and it just opens up opportunities to come on again,” he signed off.

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