The tactician will make his debut in the ISL as a head coach against FC Goa.

After a season of success, which saw them win both the League Winners’ Shield and the title, Mumbai City FC are out to retain both this term. But, the Islanders will have to do it without their chief orchestrator Sergio Lobera and playmaker Hugo Boumous among others. The defending champions begin their ISL title defence against FC Goa on November 22 (Monday). A late change means, they go into this season with a new coach at the helm – Des Buckingham. The 36-year-old won the A-League double with Melbourne City last season, albeit as an assistant. The Mumbai City job is sort of a promotion for him and the Englishman is ready to excel in his new role.

Buckingham was accompanied by his captain Mourtada Fall at the pre-match press conference on Sunday ahead of his side’s season opener against Goa. Fall, a former Gaur, has the utmost respect for his former side, but approaches the fixture like any other.

“Tomorrow (is) an important game, like every game,” established the 33-year-old. “Tomorrow is the start of the season, so for this, we need to start well. So, we take (it) seriously (as) every team (is) the same. (There is) no big difference between FC Goa and the other teams. We need to (be) ready ourselves, our mentality for every game.”

Similarly, Des Buckingham is more focused on his own team and on having a pragmatic approach. “We’ve watched a lot of footage and the main focus will be on us. We’ve probably spent about 80% of our time focused on ourselves, our playing style and how we go about what we want to do. We are prepared to be the best we can be. I’m excited for the opener as this is my 19th season of coaching and I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great coaches around the world,” confirmed Buckingham.

On chemistry among players

“Yes, I think we have good, quality Indian players. We have played together in pre-season, in friendly games. I think we have players who can play with me in defence easily because we have a good kind of Indian players.” stated Fall.

For Buckingham, team chemistry is a crucial factor no matter where you go. “Trying to get a group of 27 players as we have here, trying to gel them and pointing them in the right direction is important, regardless of whether they are Indian players or foreign players. So, we’ve done a lot of work on the field. But, we’ve (also) done a lot of work off the field in the bio-bubble, trying to get all 27 players pointed towards the same direction and making sure everyone’s aware of how they contribute towards what we do,” Buckingham continued.

On responsibility as captain

Newly-appointed captain Mourtada Fall was visibly happy with the leadership role assigned to him this season.

“Yes, with captaincy, responsibility will come more. Of course, before the captaincy, I had responsibility out there in the team because we need to help our teammates. The team needs to communicate to win and play. But, we will do our job to help the players with our experience and the young players, so this is the most important,” said the skipper.

Team News

Amey Ranawade suffered from a concussion in the playoffs final ISL last season. However, the injury is not a concern at the moment as all players are fit and available for selection. “At the moment we’re all clear, so we have everyone available to us,” Des Buckingham reassured.

On whether his recent arrival in ISL will be a disadvantage

Head coach Sergio Lobera left just a month before the start of this season, after having led the Islanders to a league double last campaign. Newly-appointed coach, Des Buckingham takes charge and hopes to leave a mark on the league. He insists they have worked to their best capacities.

“I think we’ve done as much as we could have in the time we’ve had. I think anywhere in the world you’d like more time with players, on and off the field. We haven’t had that. So, we have had to make good use of the time we have been given. Again we have spent a lot of time on the field. However, we have spent more time off the field, working with groups of players to try and just add and build to the playing style from last year,” reaffirmed Buckingham.

Focus on mental aspect of title defence

No club in the ISL has managed to successfully retain the title so far. Buckingham was asked how big of a task it is to mentally motivate players who are defending champions.

“Yes, we asked that question to the group last night when we were doing some work. Are we going to be satisfied with winning one championship and one final? Or do we actually build on that and try to continue building our club? We look at other clubs across the league and there are other clubs that have won more than we have. They have won it (the title) more times than we have.

“So, now, it is our focus to play and win games,” reiterated Buckingham. “But, again, if we want to build on this dynasty and building Mumbai City FC, we need to be up to that standard that other teams in this league have achieved (over) the past seven years.”

Choosing best starting XI

With the new four foreigners rule in play, picking the best lineup is definitely a challenge. Many in the MCFC squad have also joined pre-season late. However, Des Buckingham is not one to shy away from it.

“Yes, I’m confident I’ve found the right playing XI,” he asserted. “I’m not going to tell you what that XI is right now (laughs). We’ve had four weeks, we’ve had players coming in at various times during those four weeks, but it is what it is. We have to deal with that. But, the way the players have adapted to what’s been asked of them, the work that they’ve done prior to joining the bubble has put us in a better space. We’ve done as much work as we can and gone with the best players, who are as ready as they can be, ready for tomorrow,” he replied.

On instilling confidence within team to play together

Alongside notable departures in Hugo Boumous and Amrinder Singh among others, Mumbai City have quite a few arrivals themselves. Ygor Catatau, Igor Angulo, Mohammad Nawaz and Gurkirat Singh are among the newcomers for the Islanders.

“You can get caught up on the playing style or on playing out from the back and on playing possession-based football. However, there needs to be a purpose behind it. If we have the best players available to play that way, we will. If not, we have more than one way and when that situation arises, you have a bunch of options to advance up the pitch.

“We can never see how things will go on a matchday. So, when we face problems, we discuss what’s going wrong and we go over a few things to make sure the players have their confidence restored,” Buckingham concluded.

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