U13 Youth League: Minerva Punjab can become the real champions of India

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AIFF Media
A win against Mohammedan Sporting in the final will see the same club be crowned national champions in the senior as well as the junior-most level...

How often has it been that one club wins both the national senior league and the age group tournaments in the same season? There are very few instances.

Minerva Punjab's tweens will have the golden opportunity to do so when they play Mohammedan Sporting in the final of the inaugural U13 Youth League on Tuesday in Kolkata.

The 2017-18 season has been a delight for the Mohali-based institution. Earlier in February, they emerged champions of the Nike Premier Cup which serves as the U15 Youth League for the third successive time.

A month later, the senior side lifted their maiden I-League title. The youngest members of the Minerva family can now help the club clinch their third silverware this season.

Such has been the emergence of Minerva Punjab that the academy has produced 36 players for the Indian national teams across various age-groups in the past couple of years.

So what makes the Warriors click? Sheer determination, the drive to excel and the unparalleled hands-on approach by the Director of the academy, Ranjit Bajaj.

It is pretty evident that it is a tight-knit family. On the eve of their final round Group A game against Reliance Foundation Young Champs a week ago, Bajaj was busy choosing the best refreshment drink for his U13 boys. Minerva would go on to win the game 5-0.


Ranjit Bajaj Minerva Punjab I-League 2017-18 champions

His budget for the senior team is around INR 2 crores, puny when compared to some of the I-League big-spenders. But what about the junior sides? Across the three teams (U13, U15 and U18), it is equal to that of his I-League expenses.

Right from the U13 level, the boys train with GPS-enabled trackers attached to their body with an analyst looking after them, the diet resembles that of professional footballers.

While other clubs go around the country conducting scouting camps in order to bring in young talent, Bajaj claims to have never done one. "Boys who are hungry and think they are good enough come down to us and if we think that they are good enough, we take them under our wings," he says.

Half of his U13 squad hail from the north-east and all of those kids did make the long journey to Punjab in pursuit of better footballing opportunities. Only such investment in talents like these have helped produce Jeakson Singh Thounaojam and Nongdamba Naorem, names that became an integral part of Indian football this season.

With 19 goals scored in four games, Minerva Punjab U13 look odds-on favourites against the Young Panthers and it will be nothing short of a maelstrom of an achievement to win the 'treble'.

If all this was not enough, the Minerva U18 team qualified for the final round of the U18 Youth League after winning all their zonal group games. One would argue that it could be a potential fourth and a clean sweep in waiting.

Two down, two to go with a chance to cement the third on Tuesday, Minerva could be on the track to become the undisputed kings of Indian football this season.

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