When Mumbai City FC features in the group stage of the AFC Champions League later this year, it will be the last team from India to feature in the prestigious tournament.
With the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)’s decision to remove India’s slot in the AFC Champions League from the 2024-25 season, Mumbai City FC coach Des Buckingham hopes that his boys make an impact in this edition of the tournament.
Though the draw is yet to be announced, he is keeping a close tab on how the teams from Saudi Arabia are stacking up some of the biggest names of world football in their ranks.
“I am looking forward to it. The draw is not out, so we don’t know who we are going to get. We don’t know the players we would be up against in the Saudi teams, since the window is still open. But we know this may be the last time an Indian club gets to the Champions League for a period of time, and we want to try and showcase Indian football and what our players are capable of doing,” Buckingham told reporters on Friday as Mumbai City FC unveiled its new club crest.
Asked whether huge investments by Saudi clubs are skewing the competition, Buckingham said: “We worked the best we could. Last time, we played against teams that had more money but we came out with results. If we can repeat that, that will be a huge achievement in itself.”
As the club gears up for a two-week long pre-season training in Thailand, beginning Saturday, defender Rahul Bheke made it clear that in the upcoming season, the club not only wants to win the Indian Super League (ISL) title, but also fare well in every competition it features in. “It’s a new season and we want to win the ISL this time. There’s also the Champions League and we want to perform well in order to qualify for the playoffs. We also have the Durand Cup, where we were the runners-up last season. We want to win that as well, so these are the targets. We want to achieve everything that we missed last season,” Bheke said.
“Every season, we prepare in a certain way. We will have pre-season from tomorrow and our target will be to be ready and approach one tournament at a time,” he added.
Bheke was recently part of the Indian team that enjoyed success, winning the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF championships. “The Indian team was like a family for about 50-52 days and that was evident from our show on the pitch. Each and everyone contributed to the team’s success and that’s why we won both the tournaments,” Bheke said.
As the players looked determined to put up a brave show in the upcoming season, they also got an opportunity to interact with Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood superstar and the co-owner of the club, during the launch event.
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