Mumbai City FC, which finished as the runner-up in the last edition of the Durand Cup, will look to build on its foundations built last year, its head coach Des Buckingham told reporters on Friday.
The Islanders lost 1-2 to Bengaluru FC, which won its maiden Durand Cup title last year.
“We would continue and try to get better, in terms of how we play, and continue trying to push these players to see how far we can get them because we were able to see them showcase the quality of football they are capable of playing,” said Buckingham, who took over the side in October 2021.
Buckingham’s side broke multiple records in the Indian Super League (ISL) last season, including the longest winning streak (11 games), most points (46) and most goals (54) in one season as it became the only team to win the League Winners Shield twice.
Mumbai City completed its pre-season in Thailand in a facility used by Liverpool in 2022 and played two warm-up games, including a 3-0 win over Thai Premier League side PT Prachuap F.C.
It is drawn in Group B of the Durand Cup, alongside Jamshedpur FC, Mohammedan FC and Indian Navy FT, and will open its campaign against the Mohammedan SC on August 5.
“We played Mohammedan SC (in the Durand Cup semifinal) last year. It was a very good game, they took us to the edge of the 90 minutes to score the winner. They are a good team despite (the fact that) they changed the coach, they changed the players,” Buckingham said.
“Hopefully, throughout the Durand Cup, we can be successful but we (also need to) make sure that we are in our best shape because our first game will not be an ISL game but a Champions League game.”
Chhangte ready to shine again
MCFC has kept its attacking core intact from its last season, with Jorge Pereyra Diaz in the centre and Bipin Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte along either flank.
Chhangte – coming into the squad after a brilliant run of games for the national team – is set to play a significant role for Buckingham’s side this season.
The 26-year-old scored in the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship final, with India winning both as it climbed into the top 100 of the FIFA Rankings for the first time in five years. He was also the Golden Boot winner in the last edition of the Durand Cup with seven goals.
“I think, in the past few weeks, I’ve seen that we’ve got a good squad and especially the players around me and we have been gelling very well. Most importantly, for my side, I can’t be complacent. I have to push my boundaries to get better and that is what I am trying this season,” Chhangte told reporters.
Mumbai City will sign no new players
The ISL will have a former Mumbai City manager return to the league, with Sergio Lobera taking charge of Odisha FC for the upcoming season.
And his arrival has seen two crucial MCFC players, who formerly played under Lobera at Mumbai, Ahmed Jahouh and Mourtada Fall, join his team.
“Jahouh and Fall have been wonderful players for this football club and I will miss (them) dearly. But as football is, things change,” Buckingham said.
“I feel we’ve replaced them and replaced them well, with Tiri coming in at centre-back and Yoell (Yoell van Nieff), who has been very impressive in the two-and-half weeks we’ve had him here.”
Tiri, who debuted in the ISL in 2016 with ATK, joined the club on a one-year contract while former FC Groninger midfielder Yoell joined on a two-year deal.
The most important Indian player addition to the club, however, has been left-back Akash Mishra from Hyderabad FC. The 21-year-old is expected to walk right into the starting line-up in the Durand Cup, forming the four-man back-line alongside Mehtab Singh, Tiri and captain, Rahul Bheke.
But Buckingham said that the team will no longer pursue any player for this season.
“We’ve done our recruitment very early, trying to do as much as we could before the players were gone too far from the season. We’ve done many re-signings (extensions) for several players who were heavily impactful last season,” he said.
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