The head coach also praised winger Lallianzuala Chhangte.

Mumbai City head coach Des Buckingham and skipper Mourtada Fall addressed the media on Thursday ahead of the team’s season-opener against Hyderabad FC on Sunday. The tactician addressed multiple questions ranging from the club’s new signings to their impressive pre-season campaign.

He touched upon some of the team’s key domestic stars like midfielder Lalengmawia Ralte and Lallianzuala Chhangte. Buckingham expressed overall optimism heading into this campaign with the hopes of correcting the wrongs from the previous season. Here are some of the excerpts from the interaction.

Injury concerns

The 37-year-old warded off any injury concerns and appreciated the substantial pre-season that the club has gotten this time around. The head coach has the entire squad at his disposal barring an outlier in Amey Ranawade, who is nursing an injury that he picked up during the Durand Cup.

“There is no injury concern with us with the exception of Amey (Ranawade). Amey picked up an injury during the Durand Cup so he will miss certainly the first game but we will wait to find out the assessment on him. But otherwise we have a fully fit squad. We have a very good, hungry group of players who have shown that success especially in the AFC Champions League,” Buckingham expressed.

He added, “Then we have added other players to that group that you have seen in the Durand Cup who are very keen to add to our plans, add to the way we want to continue, try and win games and put ourselves in the best position that we can going into the start of the season.”

On new recruitments

The Islanders made some notable international signings in the summer, which include the likes of Greg Stewart, Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Rostyn Griffiths. However, they left the domestic portion of their squad largely untouched with only young defender Sanjeev Stalin joining the roster from outside. Des Buckingham explained the rationale behind their recruitment process.

“I am very happy. We set out probably from January or February of last season in terms of our recruitment,” the head coach disclosed.

He added, “We obviously made the signings that we felt we could and that’s where Rostyn Griffiths, (Jorge Pereyra) Diaz, Greg (Stewart)…they would certainly allow us to do what we want to do…on top of retaining Mourtada (Fall) and (Ahmed) Jahouh. So, I am very happy with the recruitment, foreign-wise.”

“We haven’t had too much to change in the Indian core of our players here. We have a very young core of players. 23 is the average age of our Indian group here. But I go back to consistency and the team that started the final game in our Champions League campaign. We have been able to retain 10 out of the 11 of them and that doesn’t include the guys that didn’t take to the field,” the gaffer said about their domestic crop of players.

He further quipped, “So, I am very happy with our final recruitment and building on the base of the consistency that we had with our Indian contingent last year, both young and old, I think this is as good a place as we can be based upon what we had and we have now.”

On Apuia’s stint in Belgium

The 21-year-old Apuia underwent a two-week long training stint with Belgian club Lommel SK last month. Buckingham revealed that it was an attempt to test the player’s mettle in European conditions. He added that this is a process that Mumbai City FC want to build upon going ahead as well.

“We have said since I came to the club that we want the best Indian players both young and old,” the head coach explained.

“In terms of sending Apuia to Belgium…We have a lot of good, young Indian players in the ISL. We work a certain way and we play a certain way. It’s similar to what some of the other clubs within this network also do around the world,” he opened up on the development.

Buckingham added, “So when players excel or do well in that system, the one where the club is working, it’s an opportunity for them to go and see what other clubs and places are like. “

“It’s a good opportunity for Apuia to showcase his abilities. He is a player for Mumbai, but he is an Indian player, and he is trying to showcase what he can do in Europe. So, this is something that we want to continue building up,” the former Melbourne City FC head coach said.

“It’s a pathway, it’s not guaranteed, but it’s a pathway for players from this club to go to other clubs and showcase what they can do at that stage,” he outlined the objective behind the move.

Lallianzuala Chhangte’s purple patch

Chhangte won the Golden Boot in the recently concluded Durand Cup as he notched seven goals in the team’s runners-up finish in the competition. Des Buckingham spoke in length about the aspects of the game that the winger has worked upon in the training ground to become more efficient and consistent in the final third.

“There’s a lot of work that has gone on with Chhangte in the last six-eight months behind the scenes. Trying to add that point in his game because if he wants to play in the front three or the front five, that end product is really important. Goals and assists in that final third, both for him and for us are hugely important. He has worked extremely hard to try and understand in depth some of the things that can help improve his game,” the head coach explained.

He added, “It was good to see it come together in the Durand Cup. It was a confidence booster for him too and we know he certainly can do it. But now it’s important that he takes that into the ISL season. It’s no good being just a one off. It’s important that he builds upon that to his game so that it becomes a consistent thing. We know his link-up play is really good and it’s important he contributes in the final third with goals and assists.”

Mourtada Fall on Mumbai City’s objectives this year

Mourtada Fall was a vital part of Mumbai’s historic campaign in 2020/21 when they picked up both the League Winners’ Shield as well as the ISL trophy. The towering defender was questioned whether the current squad has the potential to repeat that feat. The Senegalese defender expressed complete assurance in his team.

“It was a good experience, if you are the champion. This is what we want. So, this season also of course we can do that. We have the squad to be the champion. This is our objective and we work on that in the beginning to try to start the league well and then fight for being the champion. We are here for that. We are not here for a semi-final finish. Our objective is to take the cup,” Fall said.

“We need a good start and we need to work really hard. It will not be very easy, the 20 games or 25 games. But we need to focus on every game, take it game after game. We have the squad to arrive in that position,” he signed off.

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