The Englishman won the A-League double as an assistant manager with Melbourne City last season.

In an unexpected turn of events, Sergio Lobera has stepped down from his position as the head coach of Mumbai City FC and left India to work with City Football Group (CFG) on other projects. Lobera helped Mumbai City win the Indian Super League winners’ shield as well the ISL trophy. Courtesy of winning the league shield, the Islanders will play in the AFC Champions League next season. With Lobera gone, the reigning ISL champions announced Melbourne City assistant coach Des Buckingham as their head coach for this season. The young tactician won the A-League double with Melbourne as an assistant manager last season.

It will be a challenge for Buckingham in his first stint as a head coach in Indian football. Also with only a month before the season kicks-off, it will be tough for the players to adapt to his style of play. Adapting to the climate and conditions in India won’t be easy. He will also need time to gradually know the players before he can implement his style on them.

Buckingham is someone who has been a keen observer under several coaches starting from his days in England to his A-League winning stint with Melbourne City. Finally, the CFG are handing him the opportunity to lead a team independently. It will be interesting to see how the young tactician goes around doing his business.

With Buckingham at the helm, Mumbai City fans can expect the Islanders to play a brand of passing and pressing football. He likes his team to dictate possession and be the ones enforcing the play.

Career

Buckingham played in the lower division of England as a footballer before he decided to take up the managerial role. He started his journey as a youth team coach at Oxford United. It allowed him to pick the minds of the young footballers. The experience of working as a youth coach laid a strong foundation for the English tactician, who is tagged as one of the most forward-thinking managers in world football. At Oxford United, the 36-year-old tactician got an opportunity to work under former Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. In over a decade as a youth coach at Oxford, Buckingham helped several young talents to make it to the first team.

Des Buckingham said these words after joining Mumbai City FC

After a long stint with Oxford, he was snapped up by A-League outfit Wellington Phoenix. He started out as a part-time goalkeeper coach. However, he soon became an assistant coach under Ernie Merrick. Des Buckingham shared a great bond with the players at Wellington Phoenix and after a poor finish under Merrick, he and Chris Greenacre led the team to safety.

However, the Oxford-based coach was itching to experience life as a head coach and hence he moved back to England. He took over the Stoke City U23 team and once again guided many youngsters to the first team.

Speaking on his stint at Stoke City as a U23 head coach, Buckingham told Sky Sports, “I wanted to be a head coach so I needed to be gaining the experiences that I wanted. It was everything that I was looking for with the facilities, the £7m spent on the academy. Working with players at that level, almost the Premier League, was an opportunity that I could not turn down. The first-team players would drop down and I took a lot from it.”

However, Buckingham’s career highlight came when he became the head coach of the New Zealand U20 side. His fresh idea and modern outlook made the Kiwis play scintillating football. Buckingham guided the All Whites to the knockout stages of the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2019. It was the first time the Kiwis played with such conviction. They won their opening two matches, which included a 2-0 victory over a Norway side led by Erling Haaland. New Zealand eventually bowed out of the tournament after a defeat to Colombia on penalties.

Des Buckingham
Des Buckingham completed the A-League double with Melbourne City last season (Courtesy: MCFC Media)

Buckingham admits that the Stoke City job made him capable of managing the New Zealand U20 side. His exceptional performance with the Junior All Whites allowed New Zealand FA to entrust him with the role of the U23 team keeping the Tokyo Olympics in mind. He continued his success by winning the gold medal at the Pacific Games as their preparation for the Summer Games. The Englishman helped the Junior All Whites qualify Tokyo Olympics. But with the Summer Games deferred by a year, Buckingham’s contract expired.

He returned to Australia and joined Melbourne City as an assistant coach. Buckingham assisted the newly player-turned-manager, Patrick Kisnorbo at the club. He played a big role in the club’s A-League triumph and worked closely with players like Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout and more.

Tactics

Des Buckingham is seen as one of the most forward-thinking and progressive managers in world football. His young age allows him to be more flexible to newer ideas. While his extensive experience in youth development allows him to understand a player’s psychology, which is greatly important as a head coach.

The experience of working for multiple clubs has also given him the chance to connect with new people. Buckingham helped Bayern Munich loanee, Sarpreet Singh, during his time with the New Zealand U20 team. He has also helped Jamie MacLaren get back in form by understanding his issues and solving them. The 36-year-old is a player’s manager. Understanding his players are among the few most important pointers in his coaching manual.

Buckingham likes to play fearless and pleasing football. He likes his team to dictate the play with possession and passing. He usually opts for a basic 4-2-3-1 with two energetic midfielders in the pivot, who will allow him quick transitions and recycling of the ball during different circumstances.

When Buckingham took charge of the New Zealand U20 team, people had their doubts. But when the Junior All Whites started with an outrageous 5-0 win over Honduras, their belief was restored. They went to qualify for the knockouts and only lost to Colombia on penalties. The intensity and vigour with which the Junior All Whites played under Buckingham impressed many.

Things to watch out for

Like Sergio Lobera, Gerard Nus and Juan Ferrando, the Indian Super League has seen the rise of young and forward-thinking head coaches. Therefore Des Buckingham can be a big signing for the Islanders heading into the upcoming season. He has the experience needed to prosper in this league. His level-headed mind allows him to make judgements despite being young.

Although he enjoys keeping the ball and moving it around with intensity, he still has a dynamic approach. The 36-year-old is someone on whom the City Football Group has shown a lot of trust and with their backing, the Englishman will be keen to write his folklore on Indian soil.

He changed the mindset of the New Zealand U20 team ahead of the FIFA U20 World Cup, which saw them qualify for the knockouts for the first time in their history. There is no reason why he cannot do it with the Islanders. After watching the New Zealand U20 team at the World Cup, Kiwi great Wynton Rufer could not hold his excitement. The former Werder Bremen striker claimed watching that side gave him the most excitement he has ever felt for any New Zealand team.

Des Buckingham will bring a breath of fresh air for Mumbai City FC but he will surely have elements of Lobera considering he likes to dominate possession. It will be very interesting to see how he uses someone like Lalengmawia at the heart of the midfield. Buckingham will also have his task cut out with several other youngsters at the club and it will also be fascinating to see how the Englishman guide the Islanders in their maiden AFC Champions League campaign.

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