Minerva Punjab: The Champions of India
What an exhilarating I League Season it has been. From match fixing allegations to four teams vying for the title in the final day, we have witnessed it all. In the end it was Minerva Punjab who was crowned as the champions. It wasn’t always a rosy journey for the Punjab based outfit which saw them being inducted into the I League only last year after the League 2 champions of 2015-2016 Dempo, refused to participate in the I League. From finishing 9th in their inaugural season to being Champions within a year, it has been a remarkable transformation as they become the first team after the eras of JCT to take the crown of Champions to the land of five rivers.
What fuelled such a transformation? Here are five reasons how Minerva conquered the I League:
1) Chencho Gyeltshen:
In the beginning of the season, how many of us have expected a Bhutanese International to play such an instrumental role in the I League, this season? Chencho has been brilliant. His blistering pace and the ability to shoot from anywhere has been a nightmare for the defenders. His exemplary ability to find the back of the net saw the Bhutanese International raking up 7 goals in 17 games to finish second behind Mohun Bagan’s Dipanda Dicka. The 21 year old has drawn attention from several ISL franchises and both the Kolkata giants. What Chencho is capable of doing with better set of playmakers is scary for the opposition. Let’s, hope Chencho full fills his potential and we get to see the Bhutanese Cristiano Ronaldo reaching new heights .
2) Shrewd Scouting:
If one thing that has set Minerva apart from the rest this season,is their shrewd scouting. They didn’t have the budget to compete with the likes of the Kolkata Giants. They made brilliant use of their limited resources and did some shrewd scouting that landed them the likes of Chencho, Eric Dano,Kaseem Aidara. Last season, their participation was announced just 12 days prior to the beginning of I League. It is difficult to build a squad within 12 days, it is rumoured that Ranjit Bajaj took a personal loan to pay off the salaries of the players. This season with more time in their hands and a bigger sponsor in the form of Apollo Tyres, they have worked wonders.
3) Khogen Singh and the Backroom staff :
Khogen Singh, a man who has never been in the limelight or the center of attraction. He has done his work silently, letting his players do the talking. He has stayed away from controversy, even when Minerva alleged match fixing allegations. He had perfectly created a system to accommodate the Goal Scoring prowess of Chencho and their pace on the brakes; the man has got the job done. Aptly supported by his back room staff, Team Manager Sachin Badadhe, Physiotherapist Neeraj Churi and Technical Consultant Joel Williams they have done wonders to build a motivated group of youngsters with the hopes of taking Indian Football by storm.
4) No Pressure of winning the League:
Would you have believed me if I said to you in the beginning of the season that Minerva would be the champions of the I League ? Even after the pre-season friendly win against Bengaluru FC in which Chencho scored a hattrick. It would have been a foolish to place your bet on Minerva. After all who could have thought that they would be able to compete with the likes of Kolkata Giants, the likes of Aizawl FC, Shillong Lajong and also the evergreen Churchill Brothers? But, this is football, miracles do happen here,fairy tales does exist. What Aizawl FC’s I League win taught us is that Indian Football is unpredictable. Unlike the Kolkata clubs, who are expected to win every match, Minerva had no such pressure of winning the league. The burden of expectation sometimes makes the clubs falter, as we have seen Mohun Bagan last season and East Bengal multiple times throughout the I League. Minerva, on the other hand had no such expectations which ultimately played in their favour and they were able to outlast their major opponents East Bengal and Neroca FC both of them had come close to lifting the I League Crown.
5) Ranjit Bajaj :
In the era of corrupt and incompetent officials that have been ruining the football clubs, Ranjit Bajaj has been a revelation. The former U-19 footballer, 39 year old Ranjit Bajaj has been a revelation this season. From motivating players in the dressing rooms to being on the side-lines urging their players to go for that extra push, he has been omnipresent. He himself have scouted more than a thousand foreigners and narrowed down to 5 for the final selection. He with the help of the legendary, Bimal Ghosh have scouted the domestic players. All his hard work has culminated in their maiden ever I League win.
Minerva Punjab has ticked all the right boxes required for a football club. They have set up a youth system which saw 33 players plying their trade for the National Team across various age levels. Jeakson Singh, India’s only goal scorer at the U-17 World Cup is also from the fabled Minerva Academy. Performing exemplary scouting activities and instilling military like discipline in the club’s youth as well as the senior teams, it is interesting to see what future lies ahead for the Punjab based outfit. Will it follow the likes of its predecessor JCT and close down after a few glorious years or it will be a bigger fish in the pond and make the jump to ISL next season? One thing is for sure, Minerva Punjab is here to stay. As they bask in the glory of their Maiden I League triumph, let us hope they do their bit to put India back in the maps of Asian football.