Minerva Academy FC: All You Need To Know
Khel Now brings you all you need to know about the club seeking to Punjab football back on the map…
Club Name: Minerva Academy FC
Nick Name: Pride of Punjab
Year Founded: 2005
Home Ground: Guru Nanak Stadium, Ludhiana
Owners: Ranjit Bajaj (Owner and Executive Director)
Manager: Surinder Singh
League: I-League Second Division
Minerva Academy Football Club has a history dating back to the 1970s. Previously called Minerva FC, as a school football team of the Minerva Public School, Mohali (now closed) formed the most formidable football team of the region.
They dominated in competitions and won many national, school level tournaments till the 1990s after which the team was disbanded due to the school shutting down.
In 2005, Minerva Academy Football Club was founded to revive the glory of Minerva FC and grow to be a force of the region once again.
In the last edition of the I-League Second Division they finished runners-up just two points behind table-toppers Dempo SC.
The head coach of MAFC is Surinder Singh AFC – A license and Ex-head coach of Pailan Arrows FC (I-League) and the India U-13 and U-15 teams in 2012 and 2013. He is singlehandedly responsible for producing many star players including Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Gurwinder Singh, Robin Singh, Sehnaj Singh and Sumit Passi. He knows and understands local players and their mentality and has a knack of getting the best out of the players with a no-pressure approach.
The Chandigarh based club from Punjab has recently signed Guam international Marcus Lopez to strengthen their squad for the I-League. They had already availed the services of Korhena Boakai in the defense with Nigerian duo of Victor Amobi and Lago Dogbo Bei in the midfield and forward line. It has always been Minerva's philosophy to bring forward players from the sporting powerhouse state of Punjab. In the I-League Second Division debut season 2015-16 Minerva fielded a squad of young local players complemented by few foreign players for added robustness and experience. Even if promoted to the I-league they are likely to follow the same strategy. The idea is to give a platform for local talent to shine. They are already looking at players for the I-league and are confident of putting together a strong team if granted entry.
Here are the three top domestic signings:
Clifford Miranda: The Tata Football Academy graduate who has plied his trade for Dempo for the last 15 years winning five I-league titles will be shifting colours this season. In July 2015 Miranda was drafted to play for Atlético de Kolkata in the 2015 Indian Super League.
Miranda made his debut against archrivals Pakistan in 2004. He has been an integral part of the national outfit. During the Bob Houghton era, Clifford became a regular member of his team due to his ability to dribble and deliver deadly crosses from the left side of the field.
Silverware too has never eluded the winger on the national scene. He was a part of the Nehru Cup winning squads of 2007 and 2009 and helped Baichung Bhutia, the then captain of the Indian team lift the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup. He was also a member of the India team that participated in the 2011 Asia Cup in Qatar.
Manandeep Singh: The striker from Haryana had begun his career from Pailan Arrows in 2010 in the I-League before moving to Air India in the very next season where he had a glorious campaign with 9 goals from 18 games and emerged as the top Indian scorer. His goal scoring ability attracted the attention of East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan and the Red and Gold coach did not waste any time to sign the striker for a two-year spell. Manandeep helped East Bengal win the Federation Cup in 2012 beating Dempo 3-2 in Siliguri. He could only play 20 matches for East Bengal in that season and was later released by them as he suffered an injury which ruled him out of the remaining part of the 2012-13 season.
Jaison Vales: The Goan winger started his footballing career in 2009 with Churchill Brothers but during the 2009–10 season he was mainly used in the Federation Cup and IFA Shield. His best accomplishment was the 2009 IFA Shield which he won with Churchill Brothers S.C. In the 2014-15 I-League season, Salgaocar signed the winger on loan From Chennaiyin FC where he played 10 games scoring just one goal.
Young talents like Jackson Singh, Amandeep Singh and Gagandeep Singh are also giving their best and performing excellently in their respective positions.
Goalkeepers: Arshdeep Singh, Shamsher Singh
Defenders: Harpreet Bedi, Jarmanjit Singh, Moinuddin Khan, Korhena Boakai (F), Akashdeep Singh, Gagandeep Singh, Kamalpreet Singh Grewal
Midfielders: Arshdeep Singh, Amandeep Singh, Jaison Vales, Steven Fernandes, Clifford Miranda(c), Jackson Singh, Victor Amobi (F), Akash Sangwan
Forwards: Lago Dogbo Bei (F), Marcus Lopez (F), Manandeep Singh, Girik Khosla, Salman Lateef.
Minerva Academy FC was founded by Ranjit Bajaj in 2005. He is also the CEO and Executive Director of the Club. He has himself played in all the prestigious football tournaments of the country, including representing Chandigarh in two junior nationals, Subroto Cup, Santosh Trophy and the Durand Cup. He was also part of the India U-19 squad for the Asian School Games held at Malaysia in 1998, earning seven junior international caps for the country. He is extremely passionate about football and devoted to the vision of the club with a hands-on approach. You can always find him in the team dressing room on matchdays motivating the players with his inspirational talks just before the enter the field.
Style of Play
Minerva Academy are known for their attacking style of play and are a pleasure to watch for spectators and fans. This stems from the ckub’s philosophy or mantra “Play to Win”. Even when they are two goals up, MAFC are always gunning for the third instead of playing defensively and slowing the game down.
Minerva plans to host its I-league home matches at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana which is one of the few stadiums which can meet the strict licensing criteria of the I-league. The stadium is fully equipped and has a capacity of over 30,000. Minerva hosted their I-League Second Division Qualifying Round matches at Guru Nanak Stadium where they defeated the mighty Dempo SC in their first home match. In an effort to promote football in the region entry was kept free and some matches saw stadium attendance of 5000 people
MAFC regularly organises football camps and grassroots festivals to build and encourage interest in the game and to get more kids playing football. MAFC has tied up with many local schools to scout talent at a young age. Summer training camps organised by Minerva Academy FC have been immensely popular and have drawn young boys and girls not only from nearby states but from all over the globe.
Just recently four players from MAFC U-15 squad were picked for the U-17 World Cup India Camp being held at Goa namely, Shubham Sarangi, Manvir Singh, Givson Singh and Narender Singh. Two boys have been picked for India U-14 International Camp at Bhopal namely, Vikram Pratap Singh and Jaskarenvir Singh.
Minerva Academy FC, through its various activities - Grassroots, Promotions and Matches - directly reaches out to the people of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal and Uttarakhand. With a substantial and growing fan base all over the country, Minerva takes pride in the fact that it is the only club to have fans in all states of the country, through its parent organisation, Minerva Academy. It is estimated that Minerva Academy has an active fan base of around 2 Lakh people. But, being the only professional football club in the region of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand & Himachal, MAFC has potential fan base of close to 10 crore people. In its debut 2015-16 season, Minerva managed to generate a huge amount of interest in the league as well as the club. The average attendance at home games held at Sector 17 Football Stadium was 4000 people.
Road to the I-League
Minerva is the only professional football club in the Central Northern belt of the country, based in Chandigarh. Minerva is one of the few residential football academies housing 100 trainees in its youth development program. Having set up a solid foundation, MAFC entered the national fray in 2015 after being crowned the State Champions- 2015, Chandigarh and being picked by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for the I-League Second Division and subsequently for the U-15 and U-18 I-League.
Behind the Scenes
If Minerva is granted entry to the I-League then we would be one step closer to reviving the glory days of Punjab football. In order to make the I-league a truly pan-Indian league it is a must to bring back the mighty state of Punjab to the I-league, as it has won the most number of national Santosh trophy titles, second only to West Bengal. The state has produced legends of the game like Arjuna Awardee Jarnail Singh, Arjuna Awardee Inder Singh, Paraminder Singh and many more. It has a history of glorious clubs like JCT, Phagwara in the 90s and Leaders Club, Jalandar in the 80s that won the NFL/I-league twice and Durand Cup five times and was considered the best in the country.
How they will fare
In their debut season this year (2015-16) Minerva Academy FC etched their name into the history by becoming the All India champions of the AIFF U-15 Youth League better known as Nike Premier Cup 2016.
In the I-League Second Division the club stunned its rivals after ending up champions of the western conference and eventually finishing as runners up in the league, just missing the I-league berth by a whisker.
This great performance of MAFC in its debut year both in the second tier as well as the U-15 tournament has been applauded by the Indian football fraternity, thereby proving that there is an immense football talent pool in Punjab which has been left untapped till now.
With some new signings and experienced campaigners, Minerva will hope to continue their good form in the I-League if not compete for the title and are expected to give a tough fight to heavyweights like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC.
Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent Kushankur Rony Rakshit. Sports passionate and content writer. He is big football and cricket fan.
Published: Tue Nov 22, 2016 09:20 PM IST