The Punjab outfit are desperate for a top half finish this season after a campaign to forget last time out.
Last Season’s Performance
Minerva Punjab were a team in disarray throughout the I-League last season with their signings and controversies. It was their inaugural season in the premier division of Indian football and their owne Ranjit Bajaj, a true sports enthusiast had promised a lot in the beginning of the season but failed to reach those expectations. They had shuffled with their foreigners a lot signing about six, but all of them failed miserably.
In the midst of all this Bajaj had a spat with then Technical director Colin Toal which forced the latterer to leave the club. Minerva are a side who depend a lot on local talent and academy players which is why they have been so successful in the youth leagues but that combibatioo too was not working well for them. Players like Anirudh Thapa, Bodo, Prosenjit Chakraborty, Krishna Pandit, Souvick Das showed some good individual performances, but they were never a cohesive team resulting in only three wins from 18 games.
In the month of September, Minerva decided to compete in the Punjab State Division football league so that their players get enough game time before the I-league kicks off. It was considered a brave decision by the team management and the team proved it with an excellent start to the league as they finished winners of Group B with three wins and two stalemates. Minerva had scored a total of fifteen goals in that phase and conceding just one. They also played friendlies against Indian Super League teams Delhi Dynamos and Bengaluru FC. The Minervans were on the winning side beating the Blues 3-2 courtesy a hat-trick from their Bhutanese sensation Chencho Gyeltshen.
Juan Luis Perez Herrera faces a tough season ahead
The new man in-charge Juan Luiz Perez Herera has a UEFA Pro License with more than 12 years of experience in managing and leading teams in Spain. This will be Juan’s first stint in India, his last assignment was as Head Coach of Lions Gibraltar FC who play in the Gibraltar Premier League before which he was the Head Coach of Manchester 62 and College Europa in the Gibraltar Premier League. Before moving to Gibraltar Juan coached a Spanish third division side Alhaurín de la Torre CF. His philosophy and style of play seems to be well-aligned with Minerva’s ethos of playing young players from their own academy.
Minerva Punjab made some drastic changes in their foreigners’ quota as they signed all their quota of six foreigners long before the start of pre-season. They have retained few promising Indian youngsters from last season and promoted quite a few from the U-17 squad that played in the recently concluded FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Ins: Last season’s failure was firmly due to the lack of quality foreigners in their squad and on top of that reshuffling with them a lot which affected the team’s performance. This time around, owner and CEO, Bajaj learnt from the previous mistakes and got his job done as early as September-October. one month prior to the start of the league.
They started their shopping spree with Ghanian forward William Opoku Asiedu. Opoku comes with a rich experience of playing in Ghana Division One for Okyeman Planners FC, the Accra-born player scored 11 goals last season. His outstanding performance for the club was rewarded as former English Premier League side Middlesbrough FC’s Academy Recruitment Head Thiago Cruz spotted the youngster during his visit to Ghana. After a successful Trial at the academy the youngster impressed the Boro’s staff and was signed on a long-term deal.
Meantime, with the addition of William Opoku Asiedu, they had signed 3 foreigners in total, other two being Japanese Midfielder Toshiya Hosoe and Beralusian forward Dzmitry Kowb. Minsk based Belarusian striker Dzmitry Kowb last played for JK Narva Trans in Estonian.
Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Kassim Aidara, who was born in Germany and holds dual citizenship of France and Senegal, played in the Capital Premier League apart from playing for German club Niendorfer TSV in the Hamburger Oberliga. Their last but not the least signing was young Bhutanese forward Chencho Gyeltshen. The 21-year-old forward has become the sixth foreign player to be signed by the club this year. Gyeltshen holds the record for being the first Bhutanese footballer to play professionally with an international club. Having scored nine goals at the international level, Gyeltshen partnering Dzmitry and William will surely boost the attack for Minerva Punjab FC. Apart from these new foreign signings, they have promoted Jeakson Singh, Mohammed Shahjahan and few other talented players from their academy team to the senior squad.
Outs: Their average age last season was 23 and this year it is 21 if we consider the Indian contingent. They would surely miss the services of the trio Thapa, Bodo and Prosenjit who dealt very well with the side. But these players are now back again with their ISL franchise Chennaiyin FC. Nigerian midfielder cum defender Kareem Omoloja Nurain has now joined I-League champions Aizawl FC. Loveday Enninaya and Victor Amobi too have been released along with former India internationals Manandeep Singh and Jewel Raja. The likes of Germanpreet Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Simranjeet Singh have also moved on and signed for respective ISL franchises.
Formation and Tactics
How Minerva Punjab could lineup this season
Juan Luiz Perez has traditionally preferred his team in a 4-3-1-2 formation in the practice games and Punjab State Division league games with the squad at his disposal this time around the Spanish has the option to switch to a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 as and when needed. William Opoku will operate as the free player and will be given the role of a No.10 just behind Belarussan forward Dzmitry Kowb and Bhutanese Chencho Gyeltshen. In the event of a change of shape William will push upfront alongside Kowb with Krishna Pandit likely to move into the whole or vice-versa.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Minerva’s strength is their weakness this season. As it is being seen in their pre-season games they are depending a lot on the speed of their young players on the flanks which is getting full marks in a Punjab league game but against more competitive I-League opponents their tactics will be measured pretty well. Another aspect which needs to be pointed out is the inexperience in the squad and the foreigners all being new to Indian football.
Top 3 Players To Watch
Dzmitry Kowb: Minsk based Belarusian striker Dzmitry Kowb last played for JK Narva Trans in Estonia. He scored 10 goals in 14 appearances for the Narva-based team. He has also played in the Belarus Premier League at FC Vitebsk, FC Dnepr Mogilev, FC Minsk and in the A Lyga (Lithuania’s top division) for FK Trakai. Dzmitry has kept on with his goal scoring abilities for Minerva too in the Punjab league with five goals and it will be very much beneficial for them upfront if he keeps his scoring boots upright.
Chencho Gyeltshen: The 21-year-old forward has become the sixth foreign player to be signed by the club this year. Gyeltshen holds the record of being the first Bhutanese player to play professionally with an international club. The forward started his career with Yeedzin FC in the Bhutan National League and helped his team win the title in 2013. After captaining Druk United FC in 2013, the forward was signed by Thimphu FC in 2014 and scored 17 goals in ten matches in the Thimphu League in 2014. Gyeltshen also played for Buriram United in the Thai Premier League before being signed by Thai club Surin City, becoming the first Bhutanese player to play professionally with an international club.
The Bhutan national team captain will be looking to impress in India
This year has seen the forward playing for FC Tertons in Bhutan apart from playing for Chittagong Abahani in the 2017 AFC Cup qualifiers. The lanky striker has also represented Bhutan at U-12, U-14, U-16 and U-19 levels. Having scored nine goals at the international level, Gyeltshen partnering Dzmitry and William will surely boost the attack for Minerva.
Krishna Pandit: The 19-year old teenager from Chandigarh has been a super sensation for Minerva last season. His movement on and off the ball has been praised by many international coaches. Pandit represented his state in national level competitions before being selected to join the AIFF Regional Academy in 2012. Before joining the academy, Pandit was coached by former India international Sanjeev Maria. He was considered very highly rated among most involved with Indian football after he scored eight goals in only five matches during the AFC U-14 Festival. If this lad can carry on with his good work he will definitely get a spot in the playing XI aside Chencho and Dzmitry.
What To Expect
The 2017-18 edition of the I-League is widely expected to be the last edition before the merger the ISL and I-League next season. So, for MPFC this is the last chance to make a mark by finishing in a top half position.