When the Indian Super League (ISL) season started in 2014, the then Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen had said people troop in “like they go to a circus”.
A ten-week tournament for an ISL club, in eight years, has stretched to ten months, starting with the Durand Cup in August to the Super Cup in May 2023.
“I think a longer season is great for the league,” says Des Buckingham, the head coach of Mumbai City FC which won the league and the Championship in 2020-21.
“That’s what we want, the players want and this is great from the development point of view.”
He added that with a longer season, the gaps between successive seasons get shorter, which, in turn, gives his team “the benefit of having a longer season” and “more opportunities to play more games”.
“In terms of offseason…the players have been given a schedule by our strength and conditioning coach (Danny Deigan) ahead of the season …to make sure that they are as prepared as they can be coming in here and that we don’t have to start from the beginning,” the 37-year-old said.
Buckingham had taken over a Mumbai City FC that had completed a domestic double the year before, but failed to maintain its position in the league in his first season in charge.
Last season, MCFC was the only team in the top half of the table with a goal concession of over 30, as it crashed out in the league stage after a loss to eventual champion, Hyderabad FC.
Months later, the Islanders offered some hope as they became the first Indian side to register two wins in the AFC Champions League, beating Air Force Club from Iraq twice.
“We will be looking to carry the momentum from the Champions League. For me, it is about continuing from there,” he said.
“We’ve got a good base. We’ve got ten of the starting eleven that finished that Champions League game or started at Champions League game and we’ve retained a large core of the group.”
“One additional stuff we will look at is what worked last year and what we need to build on.”
Buckingham has had a reputation of building teams with youngsters over a period of 18 years.
The former goalkeeper has worked with proven ISL stars like Roy Krishna and Adrian Luna before coming to India and is famed for a fantastic spell with the New Zealand under-23 side, which he had taken to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
At Mumbai City, Buckingham has overseen the development of promising youngsters like Vikram Pratap Singh, Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuia) and Lallianzuala Chhangte last year, all of whom are still part of the squad.
“The beauty of having them (young players) and working with them day in day out is you can see and track their development and as long as you’re clear on what you want to achieve and they’re very clear and how they work towards achieving that,” he said.
All Indian Super League clubs will first play in the Durand Cup (August 13 - September 24), followed by the ISL (October 6 - March 18) and the Super Cup (April 1 - May 14).
Mumbai City has been drawn in Group B of the Durand Cup, alongside two Kolkata clubs East Bengal and ATK Mohun Bagan and will open its campaign against the other remaining side, the Indian Navy on August 18.
The team will train in Dubai till August 12, where the Indian players will arrive on July 24 while the foreigners, including new signings Greg Stewart and Jorge Pereyra Diaz, are expected by July 26.
“The most important thing is we get our players in Dubai and then try and get them match-fit so that when we travel to the Durand Cup, we’ll be taking our full first team and, we are looking forward to playing in front of the fans for the first time in a while,” he added.
Buckingham had once reflected that he hoped to leave “things in a better place than when you found them” when asked about his management.
With an extended calendar, more games, and proven ISL signings, the Englishman may well walk on the same path as Mumbai City dreams of a new dawn after former manager Sergio Lobera.
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