Mumbai: With the Super Cup returning after a four-year hiatus, Mumbai City FC are set to play their first game of the 2023 edition against I League side Churchill Brothers on Tuesday in a highly anticipated encounter.
Des Buckingham will lead an all-Indian squad of 24 players to the tournament and is looking forward to the challenge in the revamped cup competition.
Looking ahead at the Super Cup, head coach Des Buckingham spoke about the composition of the squad and the thought behind Mumbai City’s all-Indian squad. The 38-year-old said, “It will be different for us because the foreign players do make a difference. But I’ve spoken about trying to build this club, certainly in the last two years, by having and developing Indian players and we want the best for the players here.”
“The team that we have, we still have the likes of Phurba in goal. We still have Vignesh and Mandar at left back. We have Rahul Bheke and Mehtab Singh in defence. We have the likes of Vinit, Rowllin and Apuia in midfield. We still have Chhangte, Bipin and Vikram and then you add in the likes of young Ayush and a couple of others in there with Hardik and Sanjiv Stalin. I’m really excited to see how much they have developed over the last 18 months.”
Buckingham, who took over as Head Coach of the Islanders days before the 2021-22 ISL season, has now nearly spent two full seasons with the club and has committed to two more. His work with the players, most notably the young Indian players, has stood out and the form of his domestic contingent has played a key role in Mumbai City’s success in the last couple of years.
“We’ve spent two years working with most of these players. Now they understand what we do and how we do it, but we haven’t yet been able to see if we can do it without foreign players, despite the fact that the players I’ve just mentioned have contributed so well and so heavily to the success that we’ve had. So, I’m excited to see what we can do and excited to see what these players can now produce against what will be threee very good teams in that group stages of the Super Cup”, said Buckingham.
The English tactician spoke about how the exposure from the Super Cup will help the young Indian players develop along with the senior domestic players as will the additional game time.
“Whether it was the AFC Champions League, the Durand Cup or the ISL season, we’ve never spoken about winning the competition. The biggest thing we’ve focused on is our performance. Firstly, individual performances and the collective performance of the team. So yes, there is a balance between development and results – we’re a big believer and we’ve got a way that we work.”
“I’ve said before, if players can understand it and hold themselves to their standards and really try and push themselves to see what they can do, we’ve shown the results that we can bring both this season in across three or four different tournaments. So, our main focus will be on the performance, whether it’s the senior Indian players that we have or whether it’s the young guys that will come in, but they know what they need to do and how they need to do it. Then it’s an opportunity for them to really showcase what they can do both for now and hopefully for the future.”
Buckingham also spoke about how domestic football is blossoming and the Super Cup is now a major part of the Indian Football season. “The Super Cup gives us more games on what has already been. When we started back when I came to India for the first time, I used to hear the stories of the league being two or three months long. We started back in pre-season in the middle of July last year, so we’re now 10 months into the season with more games to go now. I don’t know how many games we have played this year, but the beauty of that is it gives you an opportunity not only to really look at the players that you have, but it gives players opportunities to show what they can do because you can train as much as you want, but the opportunity to compete and compete against your peers in any competition, whether it’s in India or outside, that’s really where you’re tested and that’s the one thing I’m really looking forward to seeing.”
He concluded the press-conference by talking about the role Rahul Bheke has to play as the captain of the squad for the Super Cup. “I think any anyone that captains, not just the club but certainly the club of the area that they grew up in it’s a wonderful thing, both for him and his family. But he has done it before this season when Mourtada Fall hasn’t taken to the field and Rahul has taken on the responsibility and led the team extremely well over the course of what’s been a very successful season. He’s a very good role model for everyone, not just the young players, but everyone that we have within our squad. That’s the reason he carries that armband because he represents not just the players, he represents the staff and he represents what we’re about as a club and that is why Rahul will lead the team into this Super Cup and hopefully allow us to have some further success.”