Des Buckingham on LFL show: The closeness of fans to the pitch is our uniqueness

An unbeaten push for the pole position in the league, Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham showed a clear intent to win, starting from Matchweek 1 with a six-goal thriller draw against the defending champions to an emphatic victory against FC Goa in Matchweek 9 of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23.

Positioned second in the league standings with a game in hand, the former Hero ISL champions are aiming for their second title, with Buckingham leading the charge in his second successive season. The Islanders have been playing a beautiful brand of football and are the top scoring side, having scored the most number of goals so far this season (27).

Having conceded a few goals - that could have been avoided - while trying to play out from the back, Des Buckingham had his say on it and is adamant that the players have learnt from it and the team will stick to their style and philosophy.

The Englishman featured in the latest LFL show alongside host Suyash and Hero ISL expert Paul Masefield, as he spoke about witnessing the atmosphere at the Mumbai Football Arena for the first time, the development of Indian players, his time at the club, and a lot more.

Watch the full LFL show here

Having young Indian players at his disposal and a changed squad from the 2021-22 double-winning side in his first-ever coaching stint in India, the head coach was struck by how receptive the Indian players were.

“The one thing that certainly struck me when I first arrived was how receptive and quick and keen to learn the Indian players are in particular, not just young players, senior players as well. When you've got a group of players that are so open and receptive to that, even though the team had been successful in terms of winning the double the year before, that's a really good starting point and a recipe for some further success,” he said. 

“So we've worked consistently that all of the players here have gotten development plans, so they're all very clear on what it is we're looking for, for them as individuals. They've all got player profiles, which they're very clear on when they play within the team. What they're expected to do within the positions that they play. And then we've got several ways now about how we play in possession, how we play out (of) position, which we're hopefully starting to see a lot more consistency and understanding,” he added.

Buckingham’s faith in young players has reaped massive benefits. Phurba Lachenpa (24), has kept three clean sheets and made 24 saves in nine matches. Mehtab Singh (24) is dominating the backline with 32 clearances, 11 interceptions, and has a goal to his name. Lalengmawia Ralte (22) has further grown into his role in his second season under Buckingham and is anchoring the team from the midfield whereas Lallianzuala Chhangte (25) has a knack of finding the net, having scored four goals and provided one assist. 

The fans coming back to the Mumbai Football Arena after a break of two years has brought back life into the stadium. The supporters have been ecstatic ever since the team has been playing at the Mumbai Football Arena, turning it into a fortress by backing the team in a thorough fashion. 

"Probably just been back in front of fans and the amount of support that there is here (is massive). I’ve coached in England now, and I've coached in New Zealand, Australia, and here. There are a lot of similarities between here and New Zealand, in terms of we know that football isn't the number one sport. And here it's the amount of following and engagement when you go to the stadium. We have played a couple of games and to play in front of fans, for players to play in front of twenty, thirty, forty thousand people, you don't get that in a lot of places in Europe right now. So to get that here, it’s a wonderful experience,’’ Buckingham added.

"When you come to the arena, it's because of that. For me, I've only been to a couple of the stadiums now. Obviously, last year was in Goa. Now we've had a couple of away trips. The difference for us is, we know we haven't got the biggest stadium, we know we don't have the biggest following yet. But when you come to the Mumbai Football Arena, the closeness of the fans to the pitch, because of the tightness of the stadium, because of the atmosphere that can be created within that, for me, it's a different experience. It's a special experience. For us, that's our uniqueness. We are a little bit smaller right now, but that spills onto the pitch, and you do you feel it, the players feel it and the staff feels it, and I think that's replicated back to the fans from the field,’’ he concluded.

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