Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham handed debuts to five players - Halen Nongtdu, Hardik Bhatt, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Gyamar Nikum, and PC Rohlupuia - in their final league game of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season against East Bengal FC at the Mumbai Football Arena, on February 19, 2023.

While Gill, Nikum, and Rohlupuia made their appearances off the bench, Bhatt and Nongtdu were named in the starting lineup. The duo personified energy throughout the ninety minutes on the pitch and showed glimpses of their attributes in a backline stacked with experience.  

Having made a loan switch from I-League side Rajasthan United FC to Mumbai City FC during the winter transfer window, Bhatt adds to the extensive list of defenders at the club. The defender, who is known for his versatility across the backline, offers extra strength across the several positions and will be utilized as and when needed by Buckingham. 

Buckingham has a proven track record of improving players in his team. If Bhatt can continue to develop and mature his performances under Buckingham and his staff, he stands a good chance at making his move permanent at the club.  

Deputized as a right-back, the 25-year-old had a decent debut as he registered six tackles, three clearances, two blocks, and one interception whilst also offering support in the attack with several interplays in the middle third.

The defender caught up with after the game against East Bengal FC where he spoke about his debut, the experience at Mumbai City FC, and a lot more.

Here are the excerpts:

This was a debut performance. So how are you feeling? 

First of all, I am very grateful to get an opportunity here. So proud of the entire team, they've done absolutely amazing throughout the whole season. (I) wish we would have gotten this win. But nevertheless, these guys have worked so hard. We all have worked so hard to be here, so, really proud of the team. 

Des Buckingham is known to give young players a chance and improve them. So what kind of impact has he had on you so far? And how much has he influenced your game?

This team is a champion because he is a champion. (That has been) his mindset since the day I have come here, that's what I've noticed. He's got a champion's mindset. That's the reason why Mumbai City FC have done what they've done.

You made a switch from Rajasthan United in the I-League to Mumbai City FC in the ISL. So, what difference have you noticed between the two leagues?

Absolutely. There's a reason this is the top tier of Indian football, it is in every sense. So yes, just coping up with that. 

You filled in some big shoes tonight in the place of Rostyn Griffiths, Rahul Bheke to name a few. Given the range of experienced defenders in the team, who do you want to emulate as a defender? 

I'm just going to be me going forwards and I want to set a standard for everyone. So, that's what I'm working towards.

You were bombing up the flank, moving and trying to put in crosses. Is that something you want, goals and assists, to add to your game? 

I mean it's always good to have goal contributions and it's the way that this team plays. I'd love to have more contributions but as long as I'm helping the team either defensively or attacking, it's always great.

You're playing the right-back spot. So that position is currently occupied by Rahul Bheke. Then next season there’ll be Amey Ranawade coming in. So, how do you feel competing and training with these players? And how do you push each other?

It is always good to have such players - Rahul (Bheke) is representing India for quite some time now. So when you play with these players, you push yourself in a way you haven’t done before. So that's absolutely amazing. Just sharing the same dressing room with these guys, training with them every day on the pitch. It’s amazing.