Delighted with the progression shown by young Indian players: Mumbai City FC’s Des Buckingham

Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham wants his team to put on their best performance in their next game, as his side takes on Hyderabad FC in their final league match of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season at the PJN Stadium in Margao, Goa on Saturday evening.

Buckingham was pleased with the potential of young Indian players at the club and has plans to develop them for the top-most level.

The Islanders, who have a slim chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, can only achieve that spot if they win their game against Hyderabad FC and hope that Kerala Blasters FC lose to FC Goa in their final game. Only then, the reigning champions have a chance at defending their title.

Also read: Qualification Scenario Explained

Ahead of their game against Hyderabad FC, Buckingham greeted the media during the official pre-match press conference.

Here are the excerpts from the coach’s press conference:

After the last match, how do you want to reflect and what are the takeaways you want to address in the next match?

We’re obviously disappointed to not come away with the result we wanted from that game, but we don’t have too long to put that right. Two days between that one and the next one, so we’ve trained today and we’re all looking forward to this game against Hyderabad, although it’s not in our hands anymore.   

We will go out and we will do everything we possibly can to put ourselves in a position that we want to be in at the end of this game and then we'll see what happens on the day off.

Would we see any changes in approach of the player selection?

We’ve got two players who have started the last couple of games in Chhangte [Lallianzuala] and Rahul Bheke, so that straightaway opens up opportunities for other players to either come back in or to maybe start, if they haven’t done that already. It also gives us the opportunity to look at other ways we may want to work.

What’s your assessment of young Indian players? Who amongst them have improved the most this season?

I can only speak for our players here at the club, and when you actually go through our team as the players have taken to the field this year, we’re a very young team. We have Nawaz [Mohammad] in goal who’s 21, Vignesh [Dakshinamurthy] has played a significant part at left-back this season who’s 23.

Mehtab [Singh] has broken through at centre-back and played a good portion of games at 23. Amey [Ranawade], again 23-years-old, at right-back. Apuia has played most of the games in the holding midfield role, who is 21-years-old. And then we’ve had gametime with Vikram [Singh] who’s 19, and young Gurkirat [Singh] on the left who’s 18.

We’ve got a lot of young players and there’s a lot of players yet that haven’t been taken to the field, that have the capability to do that, so we may see that in this next game. But I’m very happy with them and the progression they’ve shown. I've spoken all year around them having their own developmental plans and we’ve certainly been working on that.   

And I think that's put us in a good spot because when they've come in to compete at this level, which is the highest level that they can in India, you know, they've shown good, good ability and they contribute well to the gaps.

What is your assessment of Hyderabad FC?

We played Hyderabad in the second game of the season, and in the first half of the season, they were certainly one of the best teams that we played. They were very well organised, they’re very clear on what they’re doing with and without the ball, and again they’ve got a coach that’s been with them for a period of time which I think has helped them.

So, I know it’s unfortunate what happened with them in the last game, with them having cases and unavailability of players, so, we’re not sure where we are or where that sits right now, but as you know they’re a good team. They’ve shown that and that’s why they are where they are in the league.

And it’s important again that we must go at them the way we want to go out and we have one game left of the regular season and it’s a real opportunity for us to go and put ourselves in the position that we want against a very good Hyderabad team.

We’ve seen that in the absence of Ahmed Jahouh, the midfield has looked a lot weaker. Do you think, because it’s such a pivotal position, going forward you want to make reinforcements in that area or do you want to nurture the Indian players in that destructive role?

That role in particular, you mentioned Jahouh, but earlier this year, we obviously lost Rowllin Borges as well for the season. So when you lose two players, not just Jahouh but you also lose Rowllin, we brought up Apuia as a very young and promising player and he’s certainly shown some really good signs this year.

And then we tried to bolster that role with Vinit [Rai], who is again another young 24-year-old good player, and we’ll continue to develop him. When you lose Rowlin and then you lose Jahouh, two central figures that were here last year and played pretty much every game in that midfield, it does affect how we play because the team had become used to playing with them and through them.

So, we have to adjust and it cannot be an excuse, we have to find different ways to play well, we have to find ways to win games and play the style of football we want.

Do you think Mumbai City FC needs a bit of reinforcement before the AFC Champions League?

I think if you've got the opportunity to strengthen your team, you do that and looking at what we have available to us now, you will obviously have Jahouh who will come back in and be fit, which will be a real boost to our midfield in particular.

And then we'll take Rowllin Borges with us to the Champions League anyway because he plays a huge pivotal role in our leadership team and making sure we have that off the field if we can't have that on it, but if there is the possibility of doing that, that's something that the club will look at.

If there isn't, then, we've got good players here and it's about making sure that we set ourselves up similar to the way that we did last year. We know that other teams will have a lot more resources and a lot of other things that we possibly won't have.

So, if there's an opportunity to strengthen, that's something for the club to look at, if not then with the players that we have, we'll go and we'll do what we'll do the best that we can, to try and represent both: our club first, and secondly, Indian football on the Asian stage.

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