When Minerva Punjab clinched the I-League title on Thursday, 21 years had passed since Punjab's JCT, the last team from the state to win India's top-tier league, won the national football league in 1996-97. Backed by a passionate and football-crazy owner, the team managed to completely turn around their fortunes in a matter of just six months, courtesy of a squad led by outstanding foreign players in each department who guided and inspired their Indian counterparts to bring the best in them.
Minerva's forward line was led by a certain Bhutanese, who goes by the name of Chencho Gyletshen. His blistering pace, brilliant dribbling and his nose to find the perfect man in front of goal have made him one of the strong contenders to win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the season award. Destiny brought him to Minerva, as negotiations started after he was tipped off by a Russian in his inbox about the interest from Minerva Punjab.
"Last year, while I was playing with Abahani Limited in Bangladesh, I got a message from a Russian guy that Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj is interested in me. Then I got in touch with the officials and after hearing their offer I decided to move even when I had better offers from clubs in Bangladesh.
"For players like us, it is a good opportunity to play in national leagues of India which are far more popular. So I decided to come here," says Chencho.
Few know, that the Bhutanese skipper was first offered to East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. The Kolkata giants did not even allow him a trial as the officials were not keen on a player hailing from a country like Bhutan, whose current FIFA world ranking is 188.
"Someone from Kolkata called me and asked me to go for trials with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. But I heard that they rejected me and even did not allow me to trials as I was a player from Bhutan. They are big clubs but they underestimated a Bhutanese player. I wanted to show them that Bhutanese are not to be underestimated. You should not judge only by world rankings. These small countries can also produce quality players," says Chencho from Panchkula.
Fortune favours the brave and destiny was certainly with him on that fateful evening in Kolkata when he scored two goals against Mohun Bagan to beat the Maroon and Greens in their own backyard. No prizes for guessing Chencho's favourite individual performance in the league.
"Playing against Mohun Bagan in the second leg in Kolkata is my most memorable performance in the league. Going to their home ground and picking up three points was exceptional. I had a point to prove. But, I am open to accepting offers from them and if they come with good offer and terms I can think about it," states Chencho.
The former Buriram United player had already set his target before he had even set his foot in India and he hopes that he has done enough on the pitch to fulfil his targets as he has netted
"I came here to win the title. I always wanted to be the top scorer or become the MVP of the league. I couldn't manage to be the top scorer but I am hoping to bag the MVP of the season," says Chencho.
It is a common phenomenon across the world that clubs with sound financial status prey on performers from smaller clubs, enticing them with fatter pay packages. Chencho's performance has already alerted the Indian Super League clubs, and some of them are vying for his signature.
"I can go to all teams in ISL. I am waiting for good offers now, and if I get any good offer, of course, I would move to ISL. Right now, I have not been officially contacted by any club but I am hearing that some ISL clubs are interested. The quality of football in I-league and ISL are at par. But when it comes to facilities and being professional, I think ISL clubs are more professional than I-League ones. So, hoping for the best," says Chencho.
The forward also heaped praise on club owner Ranjit Bajaj and went on to call him 'the backbone of the team who has supported us through thick and thin'.
Chencho believes that most defenders in India make unfair off-the-ball challenges which go unnoticed by referees.
"Some defenders were very unfair. They were punching, pulling, even when I was not on the ball. Some defenders just like to kick and have malicious intentions of injuring a good player. It is very important for referees to keep a look at incidents off-the-ball," complains Chencho.
Talking about the football scenario back in his homeland Bhutan, he says that a lot needs to be done as the country lacks basic infrastructure.
"Football scenario is slowly changing in Bhutan. They have improved ten times. But finding sponsors is still difficult. We don't have any natural ground in Bhutan, all are artificial turfs. In Thimphu, we only have two stadiums. All ten teams have to practice on these two grounds. Infrastructure remains a major problem," grieves the footballer from Paro, a valley district in Bhutan.
His love for Real Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo is well known. Chencho's playing style is heavily influenced by the Portuguese as both of them are wingers who love to cut inside from the left and score goals.
"Cristiano Ronaldo inspires me with his hard work. I was about 10 when I first watched him play for Manchester United and from that day I started admiring him and his style influences me a lot.
I follow all great players like Neymar and Messi. But, Ronaldo is a better player according to me. He is not a god-gifted player and whatever he has achieved he has done through sheer hard work. This inspires me a lot," quips the number seven of Minerva Punjab.