A timeline of success: Key moments that shaped Mumbai City FC's League Shield triumph
The jerseys which are soaked with sweat for 18 long months, are now drenched with sweet waters. Des Buckingham shedding tears of joy, on the shores of Goa, the emotions of the coaching staff within the dressing room were palpable as Mumbai City FC were crowned as the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 League Shield winners, 600 Kilometers away from their home, in Fatorda.
On February 19, when the Islanders will welcome their champion club home, the streets of Andheri are going to echo the chant "Campeone Campeone ole ole ole" once again, the Islanders are waiting to sing "Iss bar hum hi jeetenge" loud and proud.
Winning the League Shield is not new for the Islanders as they have already done it in the 2020-21 season but the way they triumphed this time is what made Buckingham and his troops emotional. It's difficult to predict the future unless you create it. Well, Mumbai City FC actually created the future as they wanted. Having played 18 games, won 14 and lost none, the Islanders scripted their own fairytale, one match at a time.
So let's look at the important moments, that were pivotal in handing the Islanders their second League Winners' Shield prize.
The comeback win in Chennai, where it all took off
Mumbai City FC's unprecedented journey of an 11-match winning streak started in the coastal city of Chennai, which learnt the lesson of what is meant by calm before the storm on a rainy matchday. The Islanders who are known for quick starts conceded early for the first time against Chennaiyin FC and not once but twice in half an hour. But quickly, Mumbai City FC responded and how? Buckingham's men hit back with six goals, the most number of goals scored by them in a single match this season. The calm and composed display, when they were 0-2 down in Chennai, showed glimpses of what this Buckingham's team was capable of producing in the upcoming matches.
Making the Mumbai Football Arena - a fortress.
The champion team needs nothing less than three points in every home match, in other words, making the home a fortress. The Islanders quietly built their fortress in their "Aamchi City" since the start of the season but the Mumbai Football Arena turned into a hell for the away teams since their match against Kerala Blasters FC. The all-around attack by the Islanders made the Yellow Army, one of the most solid defensive teams in the league concede four goals within 22 minutes. The ruthless attack which makes the opponents suffocate in early minutes of their home game, is the trademark of Buckingham's team and it all started from this moment.
Defensive masterclass in Kolkata
Attack wins you games, defences wins you titles, said Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite their goalscoring exploits, there were question marks about Mumbai City FC's defence but they answered their critics in style in Kolkata. The 1-0 win against Juan Ferrando's side in Kolkata showed that the Islanders had different ways to win matches and their defence could also be the match-winner. The clean sheet after the 15 shots they faced showed what Phurba Lachenpa and his defense unit was made up of. The solid performance at the home of a direct rival further cemented their belief that it was going to be their year.
Mumbai City FC, a team never beaten
Thanks to the star-studded players, it is often forgotten that Buckingham and his coaching staff are the brains that make the players tick. The away game against Jamshedpur FC showed the mentality that the coaching staff instilled into the team. Mumbai City FC's unbeaten record was under a huge threat when JFC were leading 1-0 against MCFC on the hour mark. Everyone expected a change of wingers and a late push for the draw but Buckingham kept Chhangte and Bipin Singh in and subbed off his three vital cogs - Greg Stewart, Ahmed Jahouh, Apuia for Vikram Singh among others. The Islanders scored two in the last 10 minutes through Chhangte and Vikram Singh and avoided the anti-climax in the possible Invincibles story.
Start to end: Battles are fought and fought hard.
To become a sovereign, one has to question the existing authority first. Not surprisingly, Mumbai City FC's quest for glory started with a 3-3 draw and practically ended pleasantly with a 1-1 draw against the reigning Hero ISL champion Hyderabad FC. Manolo Marquez's team are the most difficult team to beat across three seasons as they bowed down just 10 times in 57 matches. Buckingham's players fought shoulder to shoulder with the most consistent team in the league on two occasions and remained unbeaten both times. These two points gained against Marquez's team were probably the most valuable ones of the season.
Intangible values of Buckingham's side
The technically sound playing style, the tactical substitutions, analytical evaluation of opponents are significant in making Mumbai City FC, the Shield winners this season but not so significant as the "family-like" bonding and mutual trust within the team. In the key match against KBFC, teammates trusted Diaz to deliver and later in the Shield-clinching match against FC Goa, the trust was upon Greg Stewart to deliver and both of them rose up the occasion but what's special is their kindness towards the young players. The way Stewart did the 'Shoe-shining' celebration for Bipin Singh in the KBFC match and the gesture of Diaz to allow Chhangte to take penalty in the FCG match, despite being the contender for golden boot race, is what helped this Buckingham's side to achieve greatness.