The 2018-19 season will be Minerva Punjab’s third season in the I-League. In the 2015-16 season, they finished 9th in the league. Everybody and their mum expected them to have another long, hard season where they would try to keep their heads above water and escape relegation.
But instead, they decided to win the league! They won 11 games out of 18 on their way to winning the 2017-18 I-League title (They had won two games the previous season!). Between home and away ties, they also managed to win against all teams except for East Bengal.
In pre-season, they played against ISL sides Delhi Dynamos and Northeast United. They drew against Delhi Dynamos (3-3) and lost to Northeast United (1-0). They also went on to win the Punjab State Super Football League for the first time in their history.
Going into this season, Bhutanese forward Chencho Gyeltshen, the top-scorer for Minerva last season has moved to Bengaluru FC. Apart from ‘The Ronaldo of Bhutan,’ some of Minerva’s key players moved to title rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Right-back Kamalpreet Singh, forward Gagandeep, Senegalese midfielder Aidara and goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar have all moved to East Bengal. Mohan Bagan lapped up defenders Sukhdev Singh and Ambekar. The Ivorian defender Guy Eric Dano has moved to Rainbow AC.
Minerva Punjab played a combination of direct and long ball style of football last season. That might not be possible this season with the exits of Chencho and Co. They did however sign a number of players for the upcoming season.
The star of the pre-season for Minerva was new signing Yu Kuboki. The Japanese forward joined the champions from Sydney Olympic FC. They also signed Nigerian forward Philip Njoku and exciting young striker Hitova Ayemi from Nagaland. Two more forwards C. S. Sabeeth and Brazilian Robert De Souza were signed from Ozone FC. They also re-signed Manandeep Singh and Jagpreet Singh who turned up for Minerva when they were in the 2nd Division. In defence, they have signed Ivory Coast defender Lancine Toure (from Mohammedan Sporting), Rwandan defender Aimable Nsabimana and Shillong Lajong shot-stopper Nidhin Lal.
The Manipuri head coach last season, Khogen Singh, has left the club after being asked to take over youth development at Minerva instead of coaching the first team. In his place, Sachin Badadhe, the assistant coach from last season was promoted to Head Coach.
Joel Williams, the 28-year old technical coach from Gibraltar has left the club for Gokulam Kerala FC. He was instrumental in Minerva Punjab’s success story last season. In his place, Paul Munster, the former Irish footballer, has taken over the role of technical director. Paul has experience in managing youth teams in Sweden.
Paul Munster and Sachin Badadhe will manage the team together from the sidelines. Paul Munster’s role seems to be more prominent in setting out match strategy and how the team is set up to play.
He had this to say in the presser on Thursday “It is a long season and we have to be consistent. You have to take one game at a time… The whole focus is first game at home.”
Minerva take on Churchill Brothers in their opening game of the 2018-19 I-League season.
William Opoku: A midfielder who has a goal in him – it was his goal that secured Minerva Punjab the title last season.
Yu Kuboki: The Japanese striker scored 11 goals in 22 games during the pre-season.
Minerva Punjab will be playing in a qualifier for the AFC Champions League this season which is something to look forward to.
It could very well turn out to be a hit or miss season for Minerva Punjab. The defending champions have had a raft of departures and have signed a number of players including Indian National U-17 players who participated in the FIFA U-17 World Cup held last year. A new coach and technical director and possibly a change in style of play will need a lot of hard work for everyone involved.
But then again, they were supposed to finish in or around the bottom of the table last season – and they proved everybody wrong.