From grit to glory: Des Buckingham's unforgettable stint at Mumbai City FC
As Buckingham concludes his journey with Mumbai City FC, we look down some of his best moments with the club.
Des Buckingham departs Mumbai City FC on a high. The Islanders, on Thursday, announced the immediate departure of the Englishman, as he embarks on a new chapter in his coaching career with EFL League One club Oxford United.
Having been appointed by Mumbai City FC ahead of the 2021-22 season, Buckingham leaves behind an indelible legacy, standing among the most successful head coaches in the club’s history. His tenure witnessed ISL League Shield glory along with a noteworthy performance in the AFC Champions League during the 2021-22 season. Though his time with the Islanders spanned only two years, his impact is etched in the hearts of every fan. Buckingham seamlessly continued the winning mentality instilled by Sergio Lobera before his departure.
Buckingham maintained this consistency and, in many aspects, surpassed it. Whether through an attacking brand of football, reshaping the careers of players like Lallianzuala Chhangte and Apuia, or nurturing talents like Phurba Lachenpa and Mehtab Singh, he endeared himself to the fans with ease and a perpetual smile on his face.
But, how will Buckingham be remembered by the fans? As Buckingham concludes his journey with Mumbai City FC, let's reflect on some of his best moments with the club.
Setting Up the Tone - First ISL Victory (22/11/2021)
Expectations are always high when joining big clubs, and the challenge becomes even greater when Sergio Lobera’s shadow looms large overhead. Buckingham entered into a two-year deal, taking the reins of a team that had clinched the league double in the preceding season.
The Englishman began his Indian Super League (ISL) journey with an emphatic 3-0 triumph over FC Goa. The season unfolded on a positive note, and the players began to sense something extraordinary. Opting for his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, Buckingham deployed Igor Angulo as the no. 9. The Spanish striker swiftly scored two goals, propelling the Islanders to a comfortable two-goal lead at halftime.
In the second half, Brazilian forward Ygor Catatau, coming on as a substitute, sealed the victory with the third goal. Thus, Buckingham embarked on his new journey with a resounding and victorious debut.
First ISL club to clinch victory in the AFC Champions League
Buckingham’s Mumbai City FC couldn’t live up to the excitement in his first season in the ISL. Despite winning five of the first six matches, the Islanders could only manage to finish fifth in the league table with 31 points from 20 matches, 12 points behind ISL League Winners Jamshedpur FC. However, the Englishman brought the best out of his players during Asia’s top-flight tournament and did the unthinkable, where they eventually became the first Indian club to secure a win in the AFC Champions League.
🚨FT | 🇮🇶 Air Force Club 1️⃣- 2️⃣ Mumbai City FC 🇮🇳— #ACL (@TheAFCCL) April 11, 2022
HISTORIC. The Islanders become the first-ever 🇮🇳 Indian Club to win an #ACL match. Rahul Bheke, a local Mumbai lad, sweetened the night by scoring the winner 🔥#ACL2022 | #AFCvMUM pic.twitter.com/wy3KAZapiQ
The Islanders came from behind to secure a thrilling 2-1 victory over Iraq’s Air Force Club in their second group stage. Diego Mauricio and Rahul Bheke came on the scoresheet to help them secure the victory.
“A range of emotions. This is a huge result, not just for our club but a historical one for Indian football,” Buckingham remarked after their historic win in Riyadh.
Most Successful Indian Club in the AFC Champions League
The Islanders wrapped up their campaign on a commendable note, clinching the second spot in Group B with a tally of seven points from six hard-fought matches. In the face of immense pressure, the ISL side showcased unwavering resilience throughout the tournament and held on to seize advantages when opportunities presented themselves. Buckingham received praise for his fearless approach and positive playing style during the tournament, achieving a double over the Air Force Club of Iraq and playing out a 0-0 draw against UAE’s Al-Jazira Club.
ISL 2022-23 – A Record Making Season
After a season that fell below their usual standards, Buckingham’s squad rebounded with an impressive performance in the AFC Champions League and carried that fearless football spirit into the following ISL season.
Also Read: Hall of Famers: Des Buckingham’s Mumbai City FC and their terrific list of records
The English head coach gradually instilled a winning mentality in his players, leading Mumbai City FC to a league-dominating season. The Islanders emerged as a force to be reckoned with, remaining unbeaten in a record-breaking first 18 matches of the league. Their triumph was sealed with style as they secured the League Shield with two matches to spare, going undefeated in 11 matches during this remarkable stretch — a feat that set yet another record.
Also Read: Unprecedented dominance: A look at Mumbai City FC’s historic 18-match unbeaten run
In terms of offensive prowess, Mumbai City FC showcased their dominance by netting the highest number of goals (56) in a single season, playoffs included, and accumulating the most points (46) in a single campaign. While they came close to finishing the season unbeaten, two defeats in their final two league games prevented them from achieving that remarkable feat.
Also Read: A timeline of success: Key moments that shaped Mumbai City FC's League Shield triumph
Buckingham’s men displayed consistent goalscoring prowess, finding the back of the net in 28 consecutive matches between January 2022 and February 2023 — the longest such streak in the league’s history. Despite falling short of an unbeaten season and missing out on another double, it was undoubtedly a stellar campaign for the record-breaking Islanders.
Reshaping Lallianzuala Chhangte
Cast your mind back a couple of years and Chhangte appeared to be facing challenges in progressing as a player during his stint with Chennaiyin FC. The Mizo winger-forward took a pivotal step in his career by completing a loan move to the Islanders midway through the 2021-22 season, seamlessly integrating into Buckingham's system. While his impact became increasingly evident towards the end of the season, the statistical figures were yet to fully reflect his contributions.
As the 2022-23 ISL season approached, Chhangte made a significant move by securing a permanent spot with the Islanders. It was this move that marked a pivotal turning point in his career trajectory under Buckingham's guidance, and the ensuing season bore the sweet fruits of their combined efforts.
Buckingham's unwavering support for the player became apparent as he consistently backed Chhangte, providing him with ample game time and dedicating relentless efforts to refine his skills. The Englishman's strategic approach and commitment to player development became instrumental in transforming Chhangte's fortunes and establishing him as a key asset for the Islanders.
“When you have a coach (like Des Buckingham) that trusts you and encourages you to keep on attempting the ball, you have confidence. It’s important that I keep trying even though I have missed a lot of chances. It’s important that I keep trying and trying again, and one day the goals will come like it has this season,” Chhangte told ISL media in an interview during the 2022-23 season.
The 26-year-old showcased his goal-scoring prowess as a massive blessing for Mumbai City FC. Chhangte was a vital part of Buckingham’s side during the season, contributing 16 goals (10 goals and six assists) in 20 games and eventually winning the Player of the Season award.
Des Buckingham’s Mumbai City FC - At a Glance
Over his two-and-a-quarter-season tenure, the Englishman helmed the team through 47 ISL matches, triumphing in 27 and maintaining an impressive 57.4% winning percentage in the league.
A true trailblazer of the game! 🌟— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) November 16, 2023
Best wishes on your new journey, @DesBuckingham #ISL #ISL10 #LetsFootball #ISLonJioCinema #ISLonSports18 #DesBuckingham #MumbaiCityFC | @Sports18 pic.twitter.com/zmMnZ2Xnio
They faced 10 losses and settled for draws in 10 during that timeframe. Beyond his offensive prowess, the team's defensive record was equally commendable, securing 13 clean sheets.