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Neymar is coming: Mumbai City coach Des Buckingham savours 'once in a lifetime' game

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  • August 27, 2023

Mumbai City FC’s Des Buckingham is excited for his team to take on top club sides like Al Hilal that feature global superstars like Neymar in the AFC Champions League. 

The Islanders who are India’s only representative in Asia’s premier club competition have been grouped alongside Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Iran’s FC Nassaji Mazandaran and Uzbekistan’s Navbahor.

Al Hilal who is the most successful team in AFC Champions League history with four triumphs have strengthened their team in the summer transfer window with additions like Neymar, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves, Aleksander Mitrovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Malcom. 

Buckingham said that he is looking forward to testing his Mumbai City FC side against some of the best players in the world when the two teams meet in the AFC Champions League. 

“Players want to play against the best and when they get an opportunity to do that. It’s an exciting opportunity for our club, for the players to come up against not just Asia’s best, but some of the world’s best players,” Buckingham said at the press conference following the AFC Champions League 2023-24 draw. 

“Neymar is obviously the standout in there. Then they have Neves from Wolves, you’re looking at Malcolm, Mitrovic again from Fulham. It’s exciting to play against those types of players saying that might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or hopefully might be twice now on the group stage for us in our club,” he added. 

The 38-year-old who led Mumbai City FC to their first win in the AFC Champions League last year before guiding them to the League Winners’ Shield in the ISL later last season, wants his team to build on that performance when they take to the field in the Champions League this season. 

“All we can do is make sure that we put the best account of ourselves in the competition. We’ve seen what we were able to do last year allowed us to, but the results and the points that come with that. It allowed us to go into Pot three this year instead of Pot four in this competition. And, it’ll be the same this time if we can collect the results that will give us additional points for Asian competitions,” Buckingham said. 

With all the talk surrounding Mumbai City FC’s clash with Neymar’s Al Hilal, the 38-year-old feels his focus remains on more immediate tasks and will plot a plan for Neymar and Co when they get closer to the match. 

“I think when you can bring the world’s best players and have the opportunity for them to visit India. It’s not just great for our football system to get people turning their eyes and attention to what happens here. It will give people the opportunity to come and see these players close up and see the level and quality of players on the field,” the Mumbai City FC gaffer stated. 

Unlike last year, Mumbai City FC will have to juggle between ISL and AFC Champions League commitments with the matches now happening during the ISL season. But Buckingham feels him and his coaching staff will find ways to keep players fresh during this busy period. 

“This year, we’ll play six games in the Champions League, from the start of what will be the ISL season, and we’ll finish them before Christmas. So it’s going to be a very congested schedule,” he said. 

“When we get the fixtures and dates, we can plan around to make sure that all players are prepared, and we can look after them and try to keep them fit, and fresh as we possibly can to make sure that when they take to the field, whether it’s the ISL or in the Champions League they can put on the best performance that they can show because we’ve already seen when they do, and when we do as a club, we are more than capable of competing at that level,” he added. 

Mumbai City FC begin their Asian adventure with a home game against Iran’s Nassaji Mazandaran FC on September 18 before away trips to face Navabhor and Al Hilal in October. 

The Islanders return home for a reverse meeting against the Saudi Arabian giants on November 6 before traveling to Iran later that month and finishing the group stage in December with a home tie against Navabhor.

ISL Media Release


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