Des Buckingham, Mumbai City's English coach smitten with India's young talents and vada pav
Such is Buckingham's love for vada pav that he said Neymar should be introduced to the 'Mumbai favourite'. Buckingham's Mumbai City faces Al Hilal in the AFC Champions League.
Des Buckingham, the English coach of Mumbai City FC, has tasted the success and delicacies of Mumbai concomitantly. Buckingham, who landed in Mumbai in October 2021, has developed a penchant for munching vada pav - he called it his favourite - as his team crammed goals in the Indian Super League and now in the Durand Cup at ease.
The manager, who is only 38, has instilled a sense of confidence in the City Football Group owned Mumbai City FC since he has taken over the side from Sergio Lobera. Buckingham did not tinker much about the core team but assembled a set-up that clinched the ISL League Winners' Shield last season, a feat that earned Mumbai a precious AFC Champions League berth. Now, Buckingham is gearing up to embark on a new journey - as he has always done - in the uncharted water of Asia’s top club football league – the ACL - with nearly a set team filled with promising young home and overseas signings.
Mumbai City has been clubbed with Brazilian superstar Neymar’s Al Hilal, Nassaji Mazandaran and PFC Navbahor Namangan in Group D.
As the Indian domestic season got underway with the Durand Cup, Buckingham roped in a set of youngsters: Akash Mishra, Tiri, Vnit Rai, and defensive midfielder Yoell van Nieff, who is from Puskas Academy, and centre-back Nathan Rodrigues from Goa and midfielder Franklin Nazareth from Karnataka. Both Rodrigues and Franklin are 19. He has done this while retaining young prodigies such as Lallianzuala Chhangte, Phurba and Gurkirat.
It showed his faith in the Indian players. And the result is evident. His team conceded just one goal this season at the Durand Cup while maintaining a solid attacking game.
“We have a very young Indian core. I think our Indian core squad is average age is 22 years old. And it is making sure that we get the right balance between experience and age-group players. And again, it is an opportunity to allow them to develop for us to be successful. In the meantime, some of the young players I have been fortunate to work with have gone on and signed for some wonderful teams and are currently playing at some point very, very high levels around the world,” Buckingham told The Bridge.
“And I am very happy over the two years that I would say now that this club is set up in exactly the same way from a football point of view as another CFG club like in Melbourne,” he said.
‘Very enjoyable two years’
Buckingham has so far had pleasant memories of coaching in India, and he did not hide his emotion. "Certainly, it is been a very enjoyable two years so far. And it was a large part of the reason as to why I have extended my contract for two more years as well. I have very much enjoyed the experiences both football in this country and certainly of the culture, food and the people in this country," the coach added.
Rightly so, when asked Buckingham about what he liked the most about Mumbai delicacies, he said, “I think I have tried every type of Indian food possible so far. The spicier and the hotter the better for me. No issue at all with the food, it is actually been very enjoyable.”
“I liked Vada Pav the most. Last year, after training I had many. I do not know where they used to get them from that used to be in a box,” Buckingham said. Such is his love for Vada Pav that he said Neymar, who last week signed a $98 million deal with Al Hilal, should be introduced to the 'Mumbai favourite'.
But when it comes to his own players, Buckingham put a lot of restrictions on having the bread buns stuffed with potato dumplings. “Obviously, the players, the players were not allowed to have them, but the staff certainly enjoyed themselves on there, including myself. So that was always a nice snack to have afterwards,” he stated.
Master tactician with no white hairs
Buckingham might not have given the impression of a dogged veteran coach with no white hairs, but he is no less than an experienced tactician.
"Even though I am 38, I started my coaching career when I was 17 at Oxford United," said Buckingham.
"I went across to Australia, worked in the A-League with the Wellington Phoenix. I end up being the head coach there for three years. Then I went to Stoke City and managed their U-21 side for a year before going back to coach New Zealand to take over the U20 team," he added.
Under his guidance, the New Zealand U-23 team qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and won two consecutive games in an Under-20 FIFA World Cup for the first time. He would then assist Patrick Kisnorbo at Melbourne City FC, where he would complete the A-League double.
With Mumbai City FC offering Buckingham the head coach role, he did not look back. Buckingham would leave Melbourne and take up the challenge of coaching in India in 2021.
"As a as an English coach, and I grew up in England for 29 years. But this is now the fourth country I have worked as a coach. And that is part of my journey. I am trying to not only better myself as a coach, which this has certainly given me the opportunity to do, but to gain experiences. And experiences that life also gives you and to be able to combine those two and to be able to enjoy the work I do and be support and trusted in this role," said Buckingham.
Building a cohesive unit
While coming from Melbourne City, a sister club of Mumbai City, Buckingham also strengthened Mumbai's defence, by bringing in Australian defender Rostyn Griffiths, who was key to Mumbai’s qualification to the AFC Champions League.
Since taking over from Lobera, Buckingham has managed the team with a lucid vision.
“My job is to manage two things here. One is to help build the infrastructure of this club. And what I mean by that is, obviously, what you see on the television, what we see, what people see, but all the things that go on in the background,” the Oxford-born coach said.
He has also been successful in building a cohesive unit. Giving a sneak peek into how he did that at Mumbai City FC, Buckingham said, “We have access to the players 24 hours a day because we stay together. I am very happy that last year, we retained probably 90% of our squad largely Indian core. Because of that consistency has developed. And it is key for our development.”
“It's not just about one season for us, it is about this season, it is about next, it is about the year after because if we want to build this club, that also includes the reserves, it includes the academy. But to do that, we need to take a bit of a longer-term approach. So, retaining the players that can play the way we want, and retaining those players from a consistency point of view as well as of course the staff will hopefully allow us to do that a lot quicker,” he added.
Durand Cup for ACL preparation
As the new season got underway, Buckingham's team is already making noise in the Durand Cup, where they are set to play Mohun Bagan in the quarterfinals, and is ready to make a mark in the Champions League.
“We will be representing our club and our region but more importantly, we'll be representing Indian Football. We are using the Durand Cup to prepare for the ACL because the Champions League will be the first game for us rather than the Indian Super League. We are giving match time to as many players as possible so that the players are ready when we arrive on the 18th of September. But we also need to balance that with good given opportunities because we have some very good players here in our squad and that was the reason we were successful last year,” Buckingham signed off.