The team from Chandigarh will fly the flag for Punjab football…

Minerva Punjab play fellow I-League newbies Chennai City at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday evening. With the season opener likely to set the tone for the remainder of the tournament, the Warriors will look to produce a positive result in Chennai.

Speaking to the press ahead of the crucial game, coach Surinder Singh denied predicting the outcome of the game although he promised to fight for all three points in the club’s first game in the I-League. He said, “First off, I should thank Robin [Charles Raja] and Chennai City for their hospitality. As far as tomorrow’s result is concerned, anything can happen. Neither team knows much about the other team. You are in for a good encounter; you will witness good attacking football. We will look to win all three points, though.”

City and Minerva are fortunate to play each other in the opener as entering a joust with I-League juggernauts such as Mohun Bagan or Bengaluru in the opener might have hurt them mentally. However, the Minerva coach refused to undermine either team as he highlighted the players’ experience to accentuate the might of the teams.

“It’s not as if the boys will be playing football at this level for the first time,” said Singh. “Both Chennai and Minerva have players who have played in the ISL and I-League. They have signed quite a few experienced players; we have players who have played in the competition in the previous years as well.”

With Anirudh Thapa and Germandeep Singh being potential automatic starters, Minerva easily boast the youngest squad in the team. With the average age being 22, the players can be prone to schoolboy errors; however, the Minerva coach is adamant that his players have in them the quality to surprise the fans.

“Our vision is to develop football,” announced Singh. “The youngsters are hungry to play; our youngsters, I believe, will give their hundred percent. The idea is to have a blend of youth and experienced players. Our aim is to develop the young players with the aid of the experienced ones. They can change the pace of the game; you can see the difference when they are on the pitch.”

Much like their opponents, Minerva had little time to build a team. Despite mourning the lack of proper pre-season training, he stated that his players’ time at AIFF Elite Academy together should be enough to generate team chemistry. He said, “There was not much time to prepare physically; there were no pre-season games for any team. It should not be an excuse, though. Any team playing in the I-League should perform. Concerning our team morale, the boys have played together at AIFF Elite Academy. They know each other’s’ style of play. It’s not difficult to co-operate on the pitch.

“The only challenge was that the team was not together for a long time. On the pitch, when they came together, they became familiar with each other. You can’t say that it takes a long time to come into rhythm and play as a unit. There will not be much hesitation among the players. You’ll not find that they have had little time to mesh. We’ve tried to operate as a team by maintaining a friendly atmosphere at the club. The boys are helping each other. We’re ready to put up a good fight.”

Asked about Minerva’s tight schedule, he said, “We have to face every challenge as Minerva – the Warriors – are known for that. We are not putting any pressure on the players because of playing four away games in quick succession. We have to prove that we can tackle any challenge.”

Implementing a coach’s philosophy in less than a month is a Herculean task; however, he reckons that the philosophy had already been strongly ingrained during the club’s I-League 2 campaign last season.

“I’m carrying the experience I had in I-League 2. We have also retained many players who played under me in that division, so there would not be any problem regarding the players adapting to my style. I know what each player can offer to the team. They boys have prepared well; they know the philosophy of the club very clearly, so we don’t have any such problem,” he concluded.