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ISL: Can Mumbai City do an Arsenal? Des Buckingham isn't that naive

Mumbai City FC coach Des Buckingham remains to be realistic about his team's chances this year, despite being unbeaten so far.

ISL: Can Mumbai City do an Arsenal? Des Buckingham isnt that naive

Des Buckingham


Rajdeep Saha

Published: 16 Dec 2022 1:55 PM GMT

The Indian Super League and the English Premier League are certainly miles apart, be it in the quality or stature of the competitions. However, Mumbai City's sprakling run in the 2022-23 season so far reveals shades of Arsenal's 2003-04 'Invincibles' season.

The Islanders have gone nine games unbeaten in the ISL, with their match against East Bengal on 16th December completing their first half of the season, are sitting at second place, just a point behind Hyderabad FC. However, head coach Des Buckingham feels this comparison is too far-fetched a thought to even consider.

"I've been getting this question since the Goa game, but it's too naive to even think about it. We have a long way to go, and it's not even been half of the season! For us, the approach will be to take one game at a time," the Englishman, who was clad in shorts and club jacket, said speaking to The Bridge in the lobby of the ITC Sonar Bangla, Kolkata.

Buckingham arrived at the Mumbai Football Arena in 2021, a year after the club clinched the double. However, the former Melbourne City coach had a tough job at hand, especially after five of the experienced players had parted ways with the outfit post the double win.

"I had three weeks before the start of season. At the beginning, I had to decide the type of play that suited us and build the foundation. Now, we are reaping the benefits of that," he explained.

They certainly are reaping the benefits as they are yet to lose a match in the 2022-23 campaign. They have won six, drawn three, and scored a massive 27 goals, the highest by a team so far this time. One team however is keeping Des and co. on their toes.

It is Manolo Marquez's Hyderabad FC, the reigning champions and current table-toppers, who is another horse in this seemingly two-horse race.

The MCFC coach doesn't believe so as other teams are in arm's length reach with the two teams. "I think there are more than two teams fighting for the title. Hyderabad are of course reigning champions, but we'll try our best to be consistent," Buckingham said.

In the title race or not, the ISL outfit has drastically improved already. So what's the reason behind that? Is it the new recruits or the tactics? The one constant in everything is Des himself, but he points out something else as well.

"Our biggest strength has been time with the team. We have retained 90% of players from last year which certainly has helped with consistency. The players and the staff are used to how things work around here," the coach explained.

A few weeks back, rumours had surfaced in and around social media about Des Buckingham making a return to his former employer in Melbourne City FC, another City Football Group project, after the ongoing season. The smiling Des politely refused to address the same.

"I don't want to address those rumours," he chuckled.

Involuntarily, everyone has slated Mumbai City FC to give stern competition to Hyderabad and even go all the way for both titles. But the coach himself continues to be realistic.

"Anyone who looks too far in future loses sight of what is in front of them, and for us that is getting three points from East Bengal. Football can be a ruthless game," he concluded.

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