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Minerva Punjab in damage-control mode as Ranjit Bajaj takes centrestage

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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Sources revealed to Khel Now  that head coach Surinder Singh and Technical Director Colm Toal could be asked to leave soon...

Struggling I-League outfit Minerva Punjab FC are a divided house with recently appointed technical director Colm Toal and majority owner, founder, and executive director Ranjit Bajaj engaging in an altercation over technical decisions before their game against Mumbai FC on Saturday, sources close to the developments said.

Toal has been India's veteran youth team coach in the past and had just taken over the responsibility to take over the team and to change its fortunes. The team had defeated Mumbai FC in the last game 2-1 and all the credit was reportedly taken by Bajaj, something which irked the 66-year old US based coach.

On Saturday, ahead of their seventh-round game against Mumbai, a match which they won 2-1, Toal's preferred team selection and formation was rejected by Bajaj who, it was learnt, set out his own team full of youngsters, increasing distances and disturbances amongst the two.

Reports in the media have suggested that the owner had a tiff with Toal, and changed the tactics and players before kick-off against Mumbai FC.

Toal later said he would step down from his position as his decisions were not being paid heed to. 

A source close to Ranjit Bajaj, the Minerva Punjab owner, told Khel Now, "The owner feels he would like his youngsters to be given a chance. If a 27-year old is making mistakes, he would prefer a 17-year old making mistakes. It was a disgreement on both formation and players' selection (before the Mumbai match). The club's priority is to develop youngsters and if they cannot, they're not welcome at Minerva Punjab." 

"Indian football is not going forward because U-22 players are given just five minutes on the pitch as substitutes. How will Indian football develop from this?", the source said about what Ranjit Bajaj feels on the current situation. 

With Boaringdao Bodo and Anirudh Thapa scoring, Ranjit surely has a point as the U-19 players have shown that on the pitch. The owner is currently in Mumbai, as his under-16 team team will be playing Royal Wahingdoh.

"I don't mind losing 5-0 against Mohun Bagan, if a 17-year old features in the side. The audiences can stand up and say, Indian football is on the rise."  

An insider has revealed that Singh and Toal could be on their way out of the club as their distances with Bajaj have seemingly increased.

The source also revealed that the owner had said, "Anirudh Thapa was played out of position in the last few games as Toal and Surinder were playing him out of position to accomodate more experienced and physically dominating players in the centre of the pitch. When given a proper chance after the owner's intervention against the Yellow Brigade, Thapa gave a Man of the Match performance, scoring a brilliant goal. Bodo, another 17-year old exciting attacker, was given his first league start and he responded with a goal, also becoming the youngest scorer in I-League history"

The source also added that the owner had wanted Toal, who has been referred to as the 'God of Indian youth football', to work with the youngsters and develop them, but the former India U-19 coach was doing something else. 

The source also claimed that Ranjit Bajaj feels winning an I-league trophy wouldn't create a legacy, taking the Indian national team to the World Cup would do. 

The source revealed that if both the current coaches leave, somebody like Jose Carlos Hevia, who has a similar philosophy in line with the owner can be one of the options. Hevia is the Head of Youth Development at Minerva Punjab Academy and thus, can be a positive transition. 

Before Saturday's win over Mumbai at home in a seventh-round clash, Minerva had lost four of their six outings, eking out goalless draws in the other two.

The newly inducted side, skippered by striker Manandeep Singh, had harrowing times against heavyweights East Bengal (0-5) and Mohun Bagan (0-4) and before they take on Bengaluru FC next Saturday, the management thought it would be wise to remove Surinder Singh and rope in a new coach.

Minerva are now ninth in the 10-team points table having five points from seven matches.

 

Published: Mon Feb 06, 2017 07:58 PM IST

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