The Warriors scripted another in a growing sequence of fairy-tales in Indian football after riding on the crest of a wave all the way to the title.
The fairy-tale story of Indian football was re-written this season when a new club from Punjab took the I-League by storm in their second campaign and emulated the extraordinary underdog story which Aizawl FC had achieved a season earlier. Minerva Punjab wasn’t the side many were taking into consideration when planning out the favourites for the title this season, but the sheer persistence of the whole unit and their ability to grind out results earned them a monumental achievement.
Passionate owner Ranjit Bajaj played a big part in the astounding turnaround for the Warriors as he not only appointed a shrewd manager in Khogen Singh, but also oversaw a complete overhaul of the team in the summer. Bajaj sold the liabilities in his squad and made some excellent acquisitions, especially the foreign ones who turned out to be vital to Minerva’s success. They asserted themselves as a really hard side to beat, with this factor playing a big part in them becoming the first side from Punjab since JCT to lift the I-League trophy.
Fact Sheet for Indian Season 2017-18
Season Finished: 1st
Games Played: 19
Win %: 57.09
So after changing up the look of the unit in the summer, Minerva Punjab decided to play in the Punjab State Division where they put in an excellent performance. They won three games and drew two, finishing as toppers in Group B of the competition. After getting some much-needed match fitness by playing in the local league, Minerva played some pre-season friendly matches against ISL sides Bengaluru FC and Delhi Dynamos.
While it was a difficult task for this relatively new team, Minerva did pull out a shocker when they defeated Bengaluru 3-2 in a friendly and proved their ability to thwart higher level of opposition. These pre-season friendlies were crucial for them to test themselves against the best and they headed into the season knowing just what to do in order to attain the right results.
Top 3 Performances
- Mohun Bagan 1-2 Minerva Punjab – (Match Report and Highlights)
- Minerva Punjab 3-2 Shillong Lajong – (Match Report and Highlights)
- NEROCA FC 0-1 Minerva Punjab – (Match Report and Highlights)
Manager’s Report Card
Khogen Singh wasn’t the most high-profile managerial appointment made by Minerva Punjab, but he made sure that he’d be a well-recognized name in Indian football after the season. Singh created the perfect balance in his side and his tactics were almost Jose Mourinho-esque throughout the campaign. He didn’t want his players to play the most “beautiful, attacking” football but the way he brought a clinical nature in their game won his side many matches.
Khogen also rotated his players to great effect as he made sure that almost everyone got a chance and made it very difficult for the oppositions to figure out his tactics until very late into the season. The way he inspired the likes of Bali Gagandeep, Amandeep Singh, and Sukhdev to lead from the front and take control was excellent. He turned Minerva from being “the whipping boys” to becoming defensively impenetrable and his tactics made it extremely difficult for teams to break his side down.
While Khogen couldn’t take Minerva far in the Super Cup, his impeccable ability to motivate his players into giving their all for their team was a key reason for their success.
Lessons To Be Learned
It might seem to have been a “dream season” for Punjab, but it wasn’t without its topsy-turvy moments as the Warriors almost fell apart at the business end of the season and narly lost out on the title to another team. Despite having a good lead at the top, Punjab’s tactics were found out late into the campaign as they dropped many points and played poorly.
They need to make sure something like that doesn’t happen if they’re to retain the title next season and need to have a “Plan B” to be more consistent. Also, unlike Aizawl, Minerva need to retain their core players and make sure their best aren’t signed up by other teams.