"I want to continue doing the best I can in Mumbai" - Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham
When Des Buckingham swapped Melbourne for Mumbai, he knew the challenges that the Indian Super League (ISL) would present. The club just had one of its most successful seasons under Sergio Lobera, winning the ISL Shield and the ISL title.
It certainly felt like the Islanders reached the highest of highs. So when Buckingham arrived in Mumbai, he somehow had to elevate the already existing high standards set by his predecessor.
But his first season in India did not go according to plans. Despite performing admirably in the AFC Champions League and becoming the first Indian club to secure a victory in the competiton, the Islanders only finished fifth in the ISL. They ultimately failed to qualify for the playoffs, which was the club’s primary target.
However, Buckingham, known for his relentless pursuit of perfection, bounced back the following campaign and blew away his competiton. The Mumbai outfit broke record after record and won the ISL Sheild with three games to spare.
In an interview with BBC South Today, Buckingham opened up about the successful season and what it meant to him.
"Trophies can define success in some ways,” he said. “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 mean the most to me."
Mumbai City FC won their first ISL title during the pandemic. The victory was a bittersweet feeling as the games were played behind closed doors and as a result, the players were not able to celebrate in front of the fans.
Despite winning the league in Goa (again), the Islanders lifted the ISL Shield in front of a packed crowd at the Mumbai Football Arena this time around. Buckingham was certainly overjoyed with the occasion.
"We won the league at an away game in Goa so we didn't get 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."
In recent years, Mumbai City FC have set the benchmark, which other clubs will look to emulate in the upcoming seasons. But with Buckingham at the helm, the Islanders faithful will be confident in achieving consistent success.
"There has been a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get here” – Des Buckingham on his coaching journey
Indian football is slowly but steadily on the rise, with the quality of the league improving with every passing season. Moreover, the concept of promotion and relegation is set to be introduced which will only benefit the footballing pyramid in the country.
Buckingham believes the same and revealed that football in India has improved in the past decade.
"The 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."
The 37-year-old began his coaching career at the age of 18 as a youth coach at Oxford United. After spells at Wellington Phoenix and Stoke City, he was subsequently named New Zealand under 23 team’s coach, where he made a remarkable impact that caught the eye of several teams.
He eventually joined the City Football Group with Melbourne City FC before plying his trade in Mumbai. The Mumbai City tactician reflected on the bold decisions he had to take that ultimately helped him find success.
"I won't sugar-coat it, there has been a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get here. Taking the decision to go to New Zealand initially was out of my comfort zone and a real challenge. Looking back, if I had I sat in England I would've missed out on all these opportunities because back in 2013 the only real job was head coach."
"That has changed now and there are a lot more coaching opportunities in England. 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 signed a new two-year contract after an outstanding season. Progress is unquestionably warranted under his leadership, and the club will strive to maintain its high standards.