It was very special to lift the trophy with the fans: Mumbai City FC’s Des Buckingham
Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham, in his second season with the Islanders, led the team to its second Hero Indian Super League (ISL) League Winners' Shield, securing it with two rounds to spare. He played a crucial role in moulding the team into a formidable force in Indian football.
Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham, in his second season with the Islanders, led the team to its second Hero Indian Super League (ISL) League Winners' Shield, securing it with two rounds to spare. He played a crucial role in moulding the team into a formidable force in Indian football. His tactical acumen and ability to build a strong team greatly influenced their triumphant campaign.
But for the Englishman, it's not just about winning; it's about the way you follow. The Islanders truly stood out as they clinched the League Shield in a stylish fashion. Mumbai City FC showcased their prowess by scoring a record-breaking 54 goals in a single season while also amassing the highest points tally of 46 in a single campaign.
"Trophies can define success in some ways," Buckingham stated in an interaction with BBC South Today.
"But we scored more goals and amassed more points than anyone has ever done in the league before. It is the way that we went about the win and the records that were broken along the way that means the most to me,” he added.
Mumbai City FC clinched the League Shield with a 5-3 win over FC Goa in an away game. The Islanders then travelled to Bengaluru for their penultimate league game before finally returning home for the final league game against East Bengal FC, where they had the opportunity to celebrate the victory with the fans.
Mumbai City FC previously secured the double during the 2020-21 season, which occurred amidst the COVID-affected circumstances. Consequently, the league was played behind closed doors, with no fans in the stands. Buckingham expressed his delight at finally being able to share the winning moment with the fans.
"We won the league at an away game in Goa so we didn't get a chance to celebrate with our supporters until the final game of the season at home. The last time we won it was during Covid, so there was no one in the stadium. To be able to share the title moment with the fans this time was very special," said the MCFC head coach.
Buckingham, a goalkeeper in his playing days, had stints in the youth and reserve teams of English clubs Reading and Oxford United. However, his professional career as a player never materialised. Consequently, at the young age of 18, his colleagues sparked his interest in the coaching role.
"As an 18-year-old coaching was never something I looked at as a profession. At the time the reality is there weren't all the opportunities around that you have today. But I was fortunate that I had people like Les Taylor [former player and academy coach] and Micky Lewis [former player and manager] at Oxford United who got me very interested in what coaching could be and what it could look like,” Buckingham shared.
The Englishman soon developed a keen interest in the coaching role and decided to shift his focus towards it. After studying for four years at the Oxford & Cherwell Valley College in a full-time coaching and teaching position, he began working with Oxford United's age-group squads. He eventually progressed to the main squad, where he played a role in guiding the youth players into securing their first professional contracts.
By the age of 29, Buckingham was actively seeking suitable coaching opportunities. It was precisely during this time that a fortuitous visit and a message from a former colleague altered the course of his career.
"I knew I wanted to be a head coach one day but getting that opportunity was going to be very tough. I needed to learn about managing staff, budgets and reporting to a board, so I decided to go looking for a job that would allow me to gain those experiences,” he said.
“A former colleague who was working in New Zealand sent me a role for a football development manager and it ticked every single criteria I thought I needed to eventually take on a head coaching role in England. The initial plan was to go out there for 12 to 18 months to learn - but I ended up staying,” Buckingham added.
After spending several years with A-League side Wellington Phoenix, Buckingham returned to England to take charge of Stoke City U-23 as an assistant coach. In 2016, the Englishman made a comeback to New Zealand, where he worked with various age levels of the New Zealand national team. He also guided the men's national side to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
With his success and growing profile, Buckingham caught the attention of City Football Group and was appointed as an assistant coach for Melbourne City FC in the A-League. In his debut season, Melbourne City FC clinched their first-ever league title, closely followed by a cup victory, thereby completing the double.
Buckingham's determination and hard work propelled him to his next venture. In October 2021, he was appointed as the head coach of Mumbai City FC, another club affiliated with the City Football Group. The 38-year-old expressed his thoughts on the global appeal of the Hero ISL and the significant progress the league has made over the years.
"The Hero ISL is a competition that is now attracting some top-quality young players and coaches. Stadiums are often full - with anything between 30,000 to 50,000 fans on a weekly basis - it is a game that has really grown in the last 10 years and it is more visible, even in areas where cricket is most popular," he said.
Buckingham desires to further progress in his coaching career, but for now, he remains determined to continue giving his best with Mumbai City FC.
"What I've done is just one way to progress a career, I found myself overseas and I wouldn't change that for the world, but there are lots of ways to progress your career now. I don't know what the future looks like but I do know I want to continue doing the best I can in Mumbai," Buckingham concluded.