Mumbai City FC manager Des Buckingham believes a pre-season under the scorching Dubai sun will prove the perfect preparation for his side ahead of another gruelling domestic campaign in India.
Buckingham and his Mumbai squad return home on Friday after three weeks of preparation in Jebel Ali under punishing conditions in which the mercury has threatened to touch 50 degrees.
The Englishman, 37, believes the work undertaken in the UAE will see his players in good stead for the upcoming season, which for Mumbai kicks off on Tuesday August 16 with the opening match in the 131st Durand Cup, the oldest football tournament in Asia, at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.
It was Mumbai’s second visit to the Emirates after their training camp in Abu Dhabi ahead of their Asian Champions League campaign in Saudi Arabia in April.
Buckingham’s side enjoyed a successful debut campaign in Asia's premier club competition, finishing second in Group B behind Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab. The group also included Al Quwa Al Jawiya (Iraq Air Force) and the UAE's Al Jazira.
When asked why he had chosen the UAE in the height of summer as a pre-season training venue, Buckingham told The National: “We had three reasons to set up our pre-season in Dubai: The first is that we have a lot of good connections in Dubai. We knew that with our experience when we were here the last time in Abu Dhabi in March.
“We also explored some opportunities in Dubai because we knew there was a possibility that we would want to come back for a pre-season here, because of the quality we get when we come to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the way we were looked after, particularly the facilities."
“The weather was quite extreme, which we were trying to prepare ourselves before going into India where the temperature is between 31 to 32."
The third, he explained, was that it was the first contact to bring the players and the staff together for the first time after two months.
“Dubai is a bit of an easier place to get people in from around the world. So, across those three things, with the combination we had here before and the quality of what we get,” he said.
“We got all of them here and we have been able to get the work done with the players from the fitness point of view and the football side of the things we built upon last year to get into a good position for the new season.”
Mumbai, one of 11 clubs under City Football Group's administration, finished fifth in last season's Indian Super League but it was their exploits in Asia that pleased Buckingham most.
“We set a target of trying to be the first team from India to win a game at the Champions League,” said Buckingham, who is a qualified pilot and holder of a Master's degree in Advanced Performance Football Coaching from the University of South Wales.
“Not only did we do that, but we won two and drew a game to finish second in the Group, which was a huge achievement for the club and a massive achievement for Indian football.
“The pleasant thing is how we went about getting those results. I thought we played some very good football and the players showed how good they can be on the bigger stage.”
Buckingham is hopeful of returning to the continental championship under the Asian Football Confederation’s new formula in which the 2021/22 ISL Shield champions Jamshedpur are set to meet the winner of this season's tournament to book their place in the ACL.
“We want to compete against the best and to get those opportunities again we need to win the league,” Buckingham said.
“As a group we are striving to try and be successful. We want to build upon the players and build upon the framework that we first put in place last year in the league.
“Then we get the opportunities to go and showcase ourselves on the Asian stage, showing that Indian football is that level.”
Buckingham has the core group of players retained with four new foreign players — Scotsman Greg Stewart, Australian Rostyn Griffiths, Spaniard Alberto Noguera and Jorge Pereyra Diaz of Argentina — added to the roster.
“What that allows us to do is to have the consistency on what we had last year. It’s a very good position to start with this season. There hasn’t been a wholesale change on the playing group.”