Hope to put on a great show for the fans: Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham

Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham said he feels no pressure to host his opponents for the first time this season and is excited to feel the presence of their fans after a period of two years, as his side faces Odisha FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) match at the Mumbai Football Arena, in Mumbai, on Saturday.

Buckingham believes his team will put up a great show and deliver the results to the supporters who have been supporting the team via TV sets over the last two years. With the focus of winning the first home game of the 2022-23 season, Buckingham also spoke about the youth setup, new recruitment, and a lot more alongside winger Lallianzuala Chhangte in an official pre-match press conference.

Here are the excerpts of Buckingham’s press conference:

Do you think your team will be under pressure as it’s the first home match?

No. It’s so much we’ve spoken about, we’re really excited, I’ve spent a year in the bubble in the last part of the 12 months. Everyone’s really excited to come home tomorrow and play in front of not just fans but their friends, their families, and then put on a show on what we can do and do that on a regular basis not just tomorrow but for the rest of the home games we do get for the remaining season. No pressure, just a real opportunity to show what we can do and show that live to the people who’ve been watching it on TV for the last two years.

Last week you came with a midfield of Apuia and Vinit Rai and then you made the changes with Alberto Noguera and Ahmed Jahouh who made an impact in the game. So, could we see either of them starting on Saturday?

You’ll see that tomorrow. However, we have the luxury and benefit of a wonderful midfield, and that’s been done purposefully. We went out in the off-season and recruited players that not only could play the way we want to play but it allows us to play in different ways, and that was important for us to start that way (starting Apuia and Vinit Rai) last week and then certainly to finish the game as strongly as we did.

We know against any team in this league that how tight the games could turn out to be and to have different ways to approach it, either at the start or throughout the game, and it’s going to be very important to come away with not just results in terms of a draw but how we manage to win the game.

Match Preview: Goalfest expected as Mumbai City FC and Odisha FC look to settle head-to-head record

You spoke about recruiting the right kind of players in the off-season while the crux of the team is more or less similar. How are the new players shaping up into the team and more importantly with the style of football that MCFC want to play?

We haven’t really recruited too many (players). We had four foreign spots that we wanted to fill and we filled four, and all four are coming in well together. The beauty of that is that three of them have already played in this league and not just played but rather being consistent on what they can do. Rostyn Griffiths being the fourth one who I have worked with in Melbourne.

Then we’ve brought in two domestic best players in Sanjeev Stalin and Bhaskar Roy, and they fit in extremely well, but they’ve been ought to do that because we haven’t just looked at their footballing ability. When we recruit, we look at the deeper aspects, we target the personalities of the people we’re bringing into this club, we want good people at the club as well as good players and the same with the staff. So, they certainly fit those roles here.

What’s been really important to us is the consistency that we’ve been out to retain with the playing group of last year. I’ve spoken before about the last game of the AFC Champions League that we played, we still have 10 of the 11 players who played that game. So, it’s not much of a change but I’m very happy with the change that we have added players that allows us to play in different ways.

Last game was a 3-3 draw with the champions of the Hero ISL. You mentioned last year that you don’t mind playing games having goals, like a 4-3 over 1-0. You’d obviously want your defence to be tight but are you still with the philosophy that you don’t mind scoring one goal more than the opponent?

You don’t get any more points for 5-0s or 1-0s. So what we do now from the back of last year is that we don’t want to and we can’t concede as many goals as we did last year if we want to succeed this season. We’ve got players across the field that we know can score goals, sometimes from nothing, like I’m talking about playing style. We've seen some of that in the last week. We’ve also brought Sanjeev and Rostyn in the backline and we’ve tried a few different things without goalkeepers.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5-4 or a 1-0, I prefer not to concede too many (goals) this year because it becomes difficult to make a comeback. I was pleased with last week as well, we were 1-0 up, we found ourselves 2-1 down, then 3-2 down, so we had to respond twice and that’s difficult to do but we have the mindset of players to do that. However, we don’t want to continue to do that so yes, 1-0 surely but it has to be a 5-4, we’ll take a 5-4 as well.

How important is the youth setup at MCFC? What is the club doing to develop football in Mumbai and how important is it going to be in the future for you?

My background is largely in youth development, and I’ve been able to produce wonderful players over the last ten years that have gone on and progressed in their careers, both on professional level and international level. Another reason for me being here. All of the young players, we have our youngest player Ayush (Chhikara) and Mustafir, all three are following Rostyn Griffiths, but those guys who are aged 18-26 are all working towards individual development plans.

With that, we’re really focused on training and in games, and we have a lot of discussions with the players one-on-one to try and help their development. Secondly, to improve them within our game style. Thirdly, to help develop them further so we can get them into a space where we can progress their careers even better. The largest out of that is to bring things together.

We have a way to do things on the field as well as off of it that drives us to develop what we do and how we do it throughout the club from top down through to the bottom. Next through coach education, that is to make sure the reserve and U-18 teams are aware of what we do and there’s a connection there, to work with them and give them opportunities to work with us. Then it’s about making sure that underneath, it’s very strong and a clear way of what we do. When players do progress through our club and they become familiar and used to what we do, then we get the likes of Ayush, Mustafir, young Gurkirat (Singh), and Vikram (Partap Singh), when they arrive into the first team, it’s not a surprise and then they showcase their abilities on the field outside.

Chhangte has been a top player for a long time. How did you expect him to fit in given his skillset and what did you feel were you missing in front of the goal because he, certainly, has the potential?          

We didn’t feel he was missing too much, if anything. We had a talk about the way we want to play and to play that way we need players that we feel can come up like that. One we certainly looked at in December, in January we had the opportunity to sign him, we felt he fit the criteria and he wasn’t playing too much at that time, and that was great because it was an opportunity for us to take him a bit earlier.

It’s just been about six months to nine months that we sit here now and get him comfortable with how we do and what we do, understanding his role within the team and then to see what he did in the Champions League against some very good players but then take that form and confidence into the Durand Cup, it was really wonderful to see. I wouldn’t say there’s anything missing, I think it’s just about bringing out (his talent) and I’m very happy with how that’s played out over the last nine months. I’m very excited about that contentment for tomorrow’s game and for the rest of the season.

Here are the excerpts from Chhangte’s press conference:

You’ve looked like a different player ever since you’ve joined MCFC. You look confident every time. So, what has changed for you? Is it the players you’re playing with? What is the reason behind your confidence?

Coach Des Buckingham played an important role as he gave me confidence and trusted me. We spoke regularly after the training and of course, during the days I’ve scored goals. It helps me a lot and it gives me more confidence. The coach has always said to me to play my game, have confidence in it, do what we have done in training and enjoy your football. That has quite helped me build my confidence.

You’re playing together with Greg Stewart this season. He sort of plays in similar positions as you. What have you learnt from him so far and what is your impression of him?

We’ve surely shared the field in a lot of games by now. As the pre-season went on, we’ve been gelling up very well, we both are left-footed and have great combination on and off the pitch and of course, when you go to other players as well, you link up with them very well too. I hope we can play together well tomorrow and hope we can deliver it to the coach, the fans, and of course, Mumbai City FC.

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