The Islanders’ high-flying attack, ability to develop Indian talents and faith in youth make up the essential components of a historic league title win
Mumbai 17 February 2023: Mumbai City FC have secured the Hero ISL League Winners’ Shield with two matches yet to be played – the quickest the league title has ever been sealed. This was the Islanders’ first piece of silverware under Des Buckingham – one that the Englishman and his side have achieved in record-breaking fashion. The Islanders have dropped just one game this season and have secured 14 wins, 4 draws, and just one loss in the 19 matches they have played so far this league season.
We take a look at the stand-out components of this historic title win – a second for Mumbai City in three years!
FLYING HIGH IN ATTACK
Under the guidance of head coach Buckingham, the Islanders are a side transformed. The 38-year-old has brought a new definition to ‘attacking’ football and his Mumbai City side is a testament to it. The Islanders have scored an astounding 54 goals in 19 games so far this league season. The goals have come from all over the pitch for Mumbai City with 12 different Islanders getting their names on the scoresheet. However, the free-scoring Islanders have four attacking pillars to lean on, contributing to 65% of the league goals scored. The quartet of Jorge Pereyra Díaz (11 goals, 6 assists), Lallianzuala Chhangte (10 goals, 6 assists), Greg Stewart (7 goals, 7 assists) and Bipin Singh (6 goals, 2 assists) have been in scintillating form and have given life to Buckingham’s attractive, attacking philosophy.
Diving deeper, the goals have been a return on the tremendous attacking output the Islanders have consistently produced game after game. Mumbai City lead the Hero ISL charts for most successful passes (7721), most touches (12,513), most chances created (212), most shots (297) and most shots on target (137). Mumbai City’s fluid tactical set-up has also allowed the Islanders to control and dominate possession in nearly all their games in the season so far, averaging nearly 60% possession in the 2022-23 season so far. These unprecedented attacking numbers are a result of the continued hard work that Buckingham and his staff have put in since his arrival at the club.
NURTURING INDIAN TALENT
Since his arrival at Mumbai City, Buckingham indicated that one of his key objectives will be to nurture and help develop Indian players. His utilisation of the likes of Apuia Ralte, Mehtab Singh, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, Bipin Singh, Vikram Partap Singh and Phurba Lachenpa has seen the players develop and add new facets and levels to their skillset. However, there is no better example of the result of Buckingham’s work with Indian players than Lallianzuala Chhangte. The diminutive yet pacy winger joined the Islanders in January 2022, midway through Buckingham’s first season in charge. The remainder of the ISL season was seen as a bedding-in period for the 25-year-old attacker. It was in the AFC Champions League that he started to show glimpses of his development. Chhangte was truly unlocked at the start of the 2022-23 season – he picked up the Golden Boot in the 2022 Durand Cup with 7 goals in as many games and currently has 10 goals in the ongoing league season. He is well and truly in contention for both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball awards.
While the younger players like Vignesh, Vikram or Mehtab have shown a stark improvement in their football, the experienced seniors have stepped up a notch as well. Rahul Bheke has had, arguably, the best season of his career. He has added several facets to his game and has consistently put in a solid performance every time he has played. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the likes of Apuia Ralte and Vikram Partap Singh who through thorough development plans have shown remarkable growth. Be it Apuia’s new-found attacking role or Vikram’s holistic development as an attacker, Buckingham has put in the work with the Islanders’ domestic contingent who have raised the bar. There is no better testament to this than the 25 goals that have been scored by Indians for Mumbai City this season – an all-time Hero ISL record for a single season!
BUILDING THE FUTURE WITH YOUTH
Given Buckingham’s previous experience of working with elite youth teams, both at top-tier clubs and at an international level, one would expect the same impact with the young Islanders. The signs are more than promising. Buckingham, who has a background in teaching, has asserted developing young talent as one of his objectives for his tenure.
Under the guidance of the 38-year-old, players under the age of 23 such as Apuia Ralte, Sanjeev Stalin, Vikram Partap Singh and Gurkirat Singh have been consistenly handed minutes this season. Apuia Ralte, arguably the stand-out among his peers, has been ever-present in the Islanders’ starting eleven this season, becoming one of the most effective box-to-box midfielders in the country. He has put in all-action displays in midfield alongside seasoned veterans like Greg Stewart and Ahmed Jahouh, never missing a beat and often controlling the tempo of the game calmly at the tender age of 22. Once a defensive midfielder, Apuia has added an attacking side to his game that has seen him score 3 goals and notch up an assist in the Hero ISL this season.
Buckingham’s faith in youth has also seen him hand First Team debuts to youngsters Asif Khan (21) and Ayush Chhikara (20) in the league this season and has handed a total of 2,186 minutes to players under the age of 23. The Englishman’s commitment to working with budding Indian talent has also been showcased in the Islanders’ transfer business this season. Three of the four players the Islanders acquired in the January transfer window are yet to turn 20. Halen Nongtdu (18), Ahan Prakash (18) and Gyamar Nikum (18) are among a budding group of talent at the club, certainly to benefit under the tutelage of Buckingham and his staff in the years to come.
The Islanders will take on East Bengal FC on February 19 in our final game of the league stage where Mumbai City will be presented with the Hero ISL League Winners’ Shield in front of a packed Mumbai Football Arena.