"Need to recognize it's a very different NorthEast United compared to last season": Mumbai City gaffer Des Buckingham ahead of ISL 2023-23 opener
Mumbai City FC, fresh from their 2-0 defeat in the AFC Champions League, will now have to revert their focus to the defense of their Indian Super League (ISL) Shield. The Islanders will kick off their 2023-24 league campaign with a clash against NorthEast United FC.
Ahead of their opening clash, MCFC head coach Des Buckingham assessed their upcoming opponents during the pre-match press conference.
The Highlanders had an abysmal outing in the ISL last season, finishing bottom last with 17 defeats, two draws, and just a standalone victory. But the English tactician stressed that the NEUFC of this season is completely different from the one in the last.
"We need to recognize that it's a very different NorthEast team compared to the last season. They made substantial changes to the core group and reached the semi-final of the Durand Cup. We will not take them any more lightly than any other team."
Furthermore, Buckingham also acknowledged the abundance of homegrown talent on the NorthEast side and how it vitalizes the outfit.
"I think the squad they've put together is a very good mix, not just with regards to young players but local young players as well. We watched their games in the Durand Cup and the energy and excitement that it brings of not just representing the club but their region as well."
Des Buckingham lauds Mumbai City FC's performance against Nassaji Mazandran in the AFC Champions League
Meanwhile, Des Buckingham was also quizzed heavily about Mumbai City FC's Shield defense. Will they have a target on their back after their exploits in the last season? Well, the gaffer opined slightly differently.
"I think every season starts fresh for everybody, all we can do is ensure that we are a club that can sustain success. We define success not by just trophies, it's about developing players for now and the future and also playing our style of football."
"On the performance level, if we can go back to our game in the Champions League the other night, for me, the measures were higher than any other ACL or ISL game we played last year. Yes, the result didn't come our way, but if the players can sustain this level of performance, we'll put ourselves once again in a strong position to firstly challenge NorthEast United FC and then in the rest of the ISL season."
Although Mumbai suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Iranian outfit Nassaji Mazandaran in the Champions League, unsurprisingly Buckingham the performance of his players in the fixture.
While the scoreline wasn't favorable for the Islanders, it was widely agreed upon that they did put a good account of themselves in the encounter.
The MCFC bossman also underlined that if they can sustain the same level of performance in the upcoming matches, positive results will come their way.
"I can't stress enough about the level of club football in Asia and Nassaji are a very good team. But in terms of how we performed, barring maybe the chance conversion, if we continue to play like we did against them in the ISL and the rest of the ACL matches, we'll position ourselves most of the time to come away with positive results," he said.
Despite their best efforts to play down the expectations, Mumbai are once again one of the clear favorites to challenge for all the accolades this season. Their performance in the ACL group stages or the Durand Cup quarter-finals might be shaky, but their quality is well known. But the opening clash against NorthEast United might be a good place to start ironing out the final few details.