The new head coach of the Islanders, Des Buckingham, spoke to the press ahead of the 2021/22 season of the ISL. Excerpts below..
The newly appointed head coach of Indian Super League 2020/21 champions Mumbai City FC, Des Buckingham on Tuesday addressed a virtual press conference and expressed a desire to build upon the success the football club had achieved in the previous season.
With a huge task of defending the title in the upcoming ISL 2021/22 season, Buckingham insisted he wishes to carry forward the attacking style of football the club displayed last year.
"The first thing is to recognize the excellent work the team did last year. They achieved things this club has never achieved. That was the first thing I spoke to the group about when I first came in here. It is important to reflect upon that because we want to highlight some of the good work that took place last year. We don't want to throw that away. What good work was done last year, we want to take that with us this season, both off the field and on the field," the Englishman said.
"The team had an attacking style of football last year, that strikes true to my philosophy, and I will try to add to it, not change it," he added.
The Islanders have played three games so far in the pre-season, a 2-1 win over Hyderabad FC, a goalless draw against Odisha FC, and a 1-1 draw against SC East Bengal.
Buckingham, who previously was the Melbourne City assistant coach, reflected upon the pre-season friendly games and said he is happy with how the team is coming along.
"I am as happy as I can be, we have done everything we could have done," the 36-year-old said.
"We have had players who have joined us at different times throughout the quarantine period, but that is the case with every club in the league. In terms of settling, and what we have available to us, I am very happy with what we have achieved in the timeframe that we had," Buckingham added.
The Englishman further went on to explain his vision for the future and said that he wishes to continue to build upon the exciting brand of football the club represents.
"My vision for the next couple of years is to build upon the success that the team has achieved last year. When you define what 'success' is - we have two trophies sitting in our cabinet here, which externally are a real measure of results. But then we also have other measures that we want to build upon, from the playing style that we saw last year," he said.
"You want to leave the team in a better place when you leave them, so that is what I am really looking forward to doing," he added.
Mumbai City FC won both the ISL Trophy and the League Winners Shield in the 2020-21 season, becoming the first club to do so in a single season. Buckingham said adding another chapter to the Islanders' success story makes the role an exciting one for him.
"Often when you come into a team as a head coach, it is because the things have not worked for the team or the coach, and you pick up a club when the results have not gone well. I don't see this as a rebuild. We have a core group of players we had last year, and I find it exciting to add and build on this success. It is after seven years, we were able to win both trophies we were chasing, the excitement is to add another chapter to the story," Buckingham said.
On being asked whether playing the entirety of the season in a bio-bubble is a disadvantage of sorts, Buckingham said that it may give the squad a lot of time to spend with each other, which can prove to be useful.
"In an ideal world, everyone would love to be back in their own homes with their families and back to the areas they represent, so we would love to be back in Mumbai. But we are not in a normal world as of now. We are in Goa, we are in a bubble. For me, coming in as a coach, it's unfortunate not to experience India for what India is. What it does do in a bubble is give us a lot of time to spend with the players. It is a very controlled, closed-gate environment with our staff, players, and hotel people. It gives us as much time off the players as much we like, apart from the time we have on the field," he said.
"All this time we spend one-on-one with the players helps out a lot in the development of the players, and that is what we have been trying to do," Buckingham added.
With a lot of focus on the mental health of the players due to the bio-bubble environments, Buckingham was asked about the measures the club has taken for the mental well-being of the players.
"We have psychological workshops for players who experience mental stress. Again, for me, it is a very important part of life, and not just football in sport. With the City Football Group, we have a lot of support," the coach said.
"The first thing I asked players when I came here was asking players on what they felt helped them gain success last year, and the overwhelming feedback that we received, of about 80 percent, was about the positive environment of the team. And how together they felt like a family, despite being in a bubble. In terms of support internally, they have that, and in terms of support externally, we have support from CFG, who can help us with that," he added.
Des further went on to reveal the leadership group for the club for the upcoming season, naming Mourtada Fall as the person who will be leading the team as Club Captain.
"We have done a lot of work off the field, we had a change of captain off the back of a successful season. We have involved players in the decision-making process. We have taken feedback from the players and the staff. We will have two vice-captains in Rowlin Borges, and Mandar Dessai. And they will be led by our captain Mourtada Fall, and that's the way we have decided to go," he said.
The Islanders kick off their 2021/22 Indian Super League campaign on Monday, November 22 against FC Goa at the Fatorda Stadium in a 7.30pm kick off.