Rahul Bheke interview: Will be a great feeling to win the Hero ISL with my home club
Mumbai City FC defender Rahul Bheke has been a vital and ever-present figure in defence for the Islanders in the ongoing Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season. Deputising as a full-back in the absence of the injured Amey Ranawade this campaign, Bheke has featured in 15 matches so far and has been rock solid at the back, marshalling the right side of Mumbai City FC’s defence with aplomb.
Mumbai City FC are breaking records for fun as they look to finish the season unbeaten with four games left to go. The Islanders are seven points ahead of second-placed Hyderabad FC, who they face next at the Mumbai Football Arena.
Their away win against Jamshedpur FC saw Des Buckingham’s side set a new record for the longest unbeaten streak in Hero ISL history. With 11 wins on the trot, Mumbai City FC now have the longest winning run in the league’s history, highlighting how they have been in a league of their own this season.
𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗥𝗘𝗖𝗢𝗥𝗗𝗦 𝗞𝗘𝗘𝗣 𝗖𝗢𝗠𝗜𝗡𝗚 📈— Mumbai City FC (@MumbaiCityFC) January 29, 2023
Our landmark victory against Jamshedpur FC on Friday night marked #TheIslanders’ 1️⃣1️⃣th consecutive 𝗪 in the #HeroISL this season 💥#MumbaiCity #AamchiCity 🔵 pic.twitter.com/mTt31UiAQV
They have 47 goals from 16 games, a record-breaking tally for most goals by any team in a single season. But while their attack has been unstoppable this season, the Islanders have emerged as one of the meanest defences in the league. They have registered a joint-high tally of seven clean sheets alongside Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan, with Bheke playing a huge part.
"We need to do the same as defenders. That's what we want, to keep clean sheets and keep defending well for the team. We will make sure that we stick to this in the upcoming matches. We will continue the same work,” Bheke said to indiansuperleague.com in an exclusive interview earlier this month.
Bheke has been a regular starter under Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham. Last season, Bheke featured in 18 of his side’s 20 league games, contributing two goals and as many assists.
The 32-year-old was also one of Mumbai City FC’s standout players in the AFC Champions League and featured in all six group games for his side as they finished second in their group, something which no Indian club had done before. Bheke’s goal against Air Force Club meant that he became the first Indian to score in the competition.
After an impressive AFC Champions League campaign, Bheke continued his fine form in the Durand Cup 2022, helping the Islanders finish as runners up.
During his time in India, Buckingham has helped Mumbai City FC revamp their playing style and has pushed the Islanders to new heights. Bheke expressed how Buckingham has helped the team with his ideas and man-management skills in guiding the young and experienced players in the squad.
"He's always there to help the players and guide them and that's the reason (we are doing well under him). Right from the time he has arrived, he has helped the team grow. Even last season, or you can see in the AFC Champions League, the Durand Cup and even now this season, the players are learning from him and doing what he wants, that's the main point. The important thing is that it's giving us the results and players are listening to him,” Bheke stated.
"He's a great person. Always there to help the young players or the senior players. He's always there to help and he's like a friend to everyone, especially the youngsters," he added.
Indian players have flourished in the current Hero ISL season under Buckingham. Seven different Indian players have been among the goals, more than any other Hero ISL team.
Lallianzuala Chhangte has been the side’s joint-leading goalscorer alongside Jorge Diaz, with nine goals to his name. Overall, MCFC’s Indian contingent have contributed 22 of their 47 goals.
"I think that's the main motto, that Indian football should grow. You can see that because of a head coach, if the players are growing, that's a good sign for Indian football, and the individual players as well. So I hope players keep learning from the coach and keep going, do better and improve as players. So that's what we all want. They way we are playing, everyone is understanding what the coach wants and delivering it on the pitch, which is the reason why we are getting results,” Bheke explained.
Bheke joined Mumbai City FC from Bengaluru FC on a permanent deal ahead of the Hero ISL 2021-22 season. Bheke is no stranger to silverware, having won the Hero ISL title with Bengaluru FC during the 2018-19 season. He netted the winning goal against FC Goa in the Hero ISL final that season, helping the Blues clinch their first Hero ISL title and did it in Mumbai.
Bheke, a local lad, talked about how it's been a different experience between the two clubs and how much it'd mean for him to win the Hero ISL with his home team.
"It's totally different because in the dressing room, the players are different in both the teams. The atmosphere in Bengalaru is different. In Mumbai, it's totally different. Now you can see the fans are coming in large numbers (at the Mumbai Football Arena), there's a fully packed stadium for a couple of games and that's what we want. It's a completely different feeling. I'm happy that I'm here. I'll keep doing my work and help my team win," said Bheke.
"I'm a local lad, so playing for my home team means a lot. If we win, that's what we want. It'll be a great feeling for me, playing for my home club and winning the Hero ISL," he added.