In just two seasons with Hero Indian Super League (ISL) side Mumbai City FC, head coach Des Buckingham has taken the club to greater heights. In his first season in charge as MCFC head coach, he guided the club to a second-place finish in the group stage of the 2022 AFC Champions League. The Islanders recorded two wins and a draw from six games at the continental event, also becoming the first Indian team to register a victory at the competition.

The following season, Buckingham led Mumbai City FC to their second Hero ISL League Shield in just three seasons, doing so by shattering plenty of records along the way. MCFC sealed their position at the top of the league standings during the Hero ISL season 2022-23 after going unbeaten in 18 games, something no team had done before. Buckingham achieved this while playing an attacking and attractive brand of football, with Indian players playing a major role.

Mumbai City FC missed out on the playoff spot during the Hero ISL 2021-22 season, that was held in a bio-bubble. That season, the side’s Indian contingent just netted 13 goals. That number shot up to 27 the following season, more than double compared to last season. Buckingham revealed that a change in mindset played a major role in their development.

"Indian players were used to being told what to do and how to do it," Buckingham stated in an interview with Sky Sports.

"That first year (in the bio bubble) we spent a lot of time getting them comfortable having conversations to drive their own development."

With Buckingham building on predecessor Sergio Lobera’s philosophy of playing out from the back, the team struggled during its first season under the Englishman. MCFC scored 36 goals from 20 games during the 2020-21 season, but conceded 31 during that time. There was a significant improvement the following season, with the side netting 54 goals while allowing just 21 goals - the third-best tally in the league stage. The Indian players under Buckingham grew confident with their abilities on the ball with plenty of options to play out from the back.

"Playing out from the back, for instance. During the (first) season, we had one or two different ways of doing that depending upon how the opposition pressed us. Now, after spending time on it, and with them asking questions, we now have five or six ways."

Buckingham revealed that his experience as a teacher helped him in his quest for improving players. Besides being a football coach with over 20 years of experience, Buckingham is also a certified pilot and ski instructor.

"I was a teacher for four years and those years helped set up the framework for how people learn and how to involve people in their own learning. If they understand it, you do not have to remind them every week," he revealed.

While the Indian players have performed at a different level under Buckingham, their style of play has been nothing short of mesmerising. Fans turned up in large numbers to cheer Mumbai City FC during their home games in the 2022-23 season, with tickets ending up being mostly sold out.

"There were two remits (as head coach)," Buckingham mentioned. "One of them was to develop the young Indian players and the other was to implement what I learned at Melbourne (City FC) to make this a CFG (City Football Group) club."

The youngest coach in the Hero ISL at present, Buckingham's work is finally bearing fruit. With Mumbai City FC set to battle it out in the AFC Champions League again besides domestic competitons, the Englishman has a long way to go. 

"I am very fortunate with the journey of the last 21 years but certainly the last three years. I would like to think I have started to repay them already," he concluded.