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Des Buckingham: We’re in a stronger position than at this stage last season

Published at :January 2, 2023 at 7:15 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : ISL Media)

Uttiyo Sarkar

The Mumbai City head coach also shared his best moments from 2022.

Mumbai City look to regain the top spot in the Indian Super League (ISL 2022-23) table when they travel to face playoff hopefuls Odisha FC on Monday. Des Buckingham's side are on a six-game winning run and seem to be early favourites to win the league title.

Buckingham urges players to keep pushing themselves

Des Buckingham is calm about his side’s form and is pleased with how they’ve progressed so far, as he said in the pre-match press conference: “I don’t have to do too much. We have a humble and good group of players, who know what we want to do week in, week out. We wanted to start the season well and so we did. Very happy with the performances in the recent games, not just performances but the results too. We need to tip over to the other side of the season and get better game by game. Hopefully, that can help us push onto where we want to go.”

Can Mumbai City’s levels drop in second half of the season?

When asked about how Mumbai City can avoid being caught up with mixed results in the second half of the season, as happened last time out, the tactician said: “We’re in a much stronger position than we were at this stage last season. We only have two players different from the starting line-up from what was last season. Igor (Angulo) left us and so now we have (Jorge Pereyra) Diaz. Cassio was our no.10 and now it’s Greg (Stewart). We have the same nine players from what was last year and the same that played in the AFC Champions League.

“It’s not a massive turnaround, it’s important to appreciate the hard work these players have put in to consistently win games. Now it’s about executing this in the regular season, because they know how difficult it will be. It’s now about adding detail - we now have 5-6 things to improve to ensure we can get all the success we want in the games,” he added.

Importance of players maintaining focus amid impressive form

The Englishman also spoke about how his players are keeping their focus in this run of form, stating: “I spoke about our standards in the past and our performances are consistent to our standards. We have high standards, both on the training field and off. I have the benefit and fortune to work with these guys day in day out, and how they push and drive each other to become better. It’s important that we keep pushing ourselves. It’s important to be consistent to the standards that we’ve set. If we do that, then we’ll put ourselves in the best position to come away with results as well.”

Can the Islanders break Odisha’s unbeaten home run?

Odisha FC are yet to lose a game at the Kalinga Stadium. When asked if he’s daunted by that fact, Des Buckingham said: “I’ve been here for 15 months and if you don’t know how we want to play, it’s to go on the attack. It’s the football that we play. Whether we’re playing in the ACL or Odisha way, our approach doesn’t change.

“We’ll play football to our best abilities. Then we’ll see to make changes to impact the game, be it bringing on defensive reinforcement to secure the game. My approach to attack and play an attractive brand of football will never change. Then, it’s about managing the game during the same,” he added.

Buckingham expecting tougher games ahead

When questioned on if he expects more intense games going forward in the second half of the ISL season, the Mumbai City boss said: “Yeah every team in the ISL is getting better, including ourselves. We’ve entered Round 12, which has helped teams understand what they can expect from us. It doesn’t mean we’ll play the same way, but it helps them set up better according to the games.

“We were in a position in the first 10 rounds where we did win comfortably - we won by two goals or more, which helped us manage games better. Last week, the courage the players had to get on the ball and play the way we did, showed our mentality to see out. We won’t have it all in our own way, be it a game or sometimes in the 90 minutes. That courage to keep doing what we’re doing will help us come away with top points from every game,” he added.

Will the game be decided in midfield?

Des Buckingham doesn’t believe the game will be only decided in the midfield. He explained: “They’re a good team and the way Josep (Gombau) sets them up, which we’ve seen when they played us, is similar to ours. It’ll be across the field, not just one area that will decide the game. The two midfield battle which we saw against Chennaiyin, it’s obvious that teams will set up to stop our midfield. But we have different ways to play around that. We have a combination of the front-five, with (Jorge Pereyra Diaz), Bipin (Singh), (Lallianzuala) Chhangte. Vineet (Rai) also scores and Apuia keeps scoring. It’s good that we keep up our attacking threat and finish off our moves clinically.”

Update on Halen Nongtdu

When asked of young defender Halen Nongtdu’s progress and if he can get his debut anytime soon, the tactician said: “He’s training with us for six weeks since we announced the signing. What attracted us is that he’s a big strong physical defender. He can also play with the ball in his feet. That is what helped make us sign him.

“He’s got a fight in competition with Rostyn (Griffiths), (Mourtada) Fall, Mehtab (Singh), (Gursimrat Singh) Gill. He has trained extremely well. It’s important when you bring young players in that you help them adapt easily. He can learn from our defenders as well. If an opportunity comes for him to get game time, he’ll have to prove that he can play well and if he comes onto the field, he will have to prove what he can do,” he added.

Buckingham’s favorite moments of 2022

Finally, Buckingham also revealed his favourite moments of 2022. He said: “The Champions League is a wonderful memory that I’ll take with me for life. To be able to go into that level of competition, play the football we did and to come away with two wins and a draw against Asia’s best clubs – to show how well the Indian clubs can do was especially watching from the touchlines. I know the other fan bases supported me too, since we represented not just Mumbai but India.

“That’s something I’ll take for life, it was special. But this season, I loved Bipin Singh’s header against NorthEast. There’s a story to that. Since I arrived, I always tell Bipin that he needs to get into the positions in the box. I’ve told him for 14 months that if he gets into the positions, he’ll be able to score with his head. He must put his head there. It was 14 months in progress, so when he did that against NorthEast, it was a very nice moment to share against an individual player,” he finished with.