When Minerva Punjab clinched the I-league title last season, all eyes were on Bhutanese sensation Chencho Gyeltshen and their maverick owner Ranjit Bajaj. But there was another gentleman from Saswad, a small town about 37 km from Pune, who remained away from the spotlight but was an integral part of the Minervan think-tank - Sachin Badhadhe.
A tea-stall owner in his earlier days, he refused to be bogged down by the hard realities of life and continued to pursue his passion. He began acquiring his coaching licenses and after completing his AFC B License, he got the opportunity to work with Minerva's U-18 team. But soon he was promoted to the post of the assistant coach of the senior team after he fascinated Bajaj with his training methods with the age-group team.
After winning the I-League, Minerva decided to part ways with former head coach Khogen Singh. The mantle would be taken up by Badadhe who is currently in Mumbai completing his AFC A License coaching degree.
"It is a good experience not only for me but for all the coaches who are pursuing these licensing courses. Our technical director (Savio Medeira) is helping us in every way he can and it has been enriching experience to learn the techniques and strategies of modern football. Hopefully, I will be able to help Minerva more after completing this course," said Badadhe to Goal.
The Warriors have put together a side with many new faces as the star performers of previous seasons have all left for greener pastures. But the 38-year-old coach remains unfazed and is supremely confident of retaining the title.
"Was Kamalpreet (Singh) a star before? Was Sukhdev (Singh) a star before? We make stars. You will find better talents this year at Minerva. We are pretty confident that we can defend our title. Our performance in pre-season matches and in the Punjab League have been encouraging. We are pretty positive about putting up a good show in the I-League as well," said a confident Badadhe.
Minerva have roped in Hitova Ayemi from Kohima, Nagaland who was in terrific form for Fateh Hyderabad in the 2nd Division I-League last season. Along with him, there are several other youngsters who are raring to make their mark on the national stage.
"Many of the U-18 players will make their first senior team appearances. (Mohammad) Shahjahan is one of them. He was there in U-17 World Cup squad. They have been with the club for two-three years. The squad's average age will be around 21-22 years.
"Whereas, Hitova is a promising striker. He is recovering well from his injury and by the start of I-League, he will be fully fit. Dilliram (Sanyasi) has been amazing in the pre-season matches. He has been an impact player for us. Whenever he has come on from the bench, he has managed to tilt the game in our favour. I hope he will be the player to watch out for in I-League."
But Badadhe still thinks that there is some work to be done in the attacking department.
"We are lacking a bit in that section. We are in the final stages of signing a striker and if he does well, then we will become more formidable."
Minerva Punjab on the virtue of being the I-League champions will get the opportunity to participate in the 2019 AFC Champions Cup play-offs. Should they fail to win there, then they will drop down to the AFC Cup. Badadhe claims that his boys will not be there just to fill up the numbers.
"Our target is to do well in the AFC Cup. We will always go with a winning mentality. We never go for a point. It all matters on the preparation. We are preparing well. It will be a new experience for me as well but I am confident."
But can Minerva carry on with the same tempo in the continental competition as the I-League will continue simultaneously? The coach answers in the affirmative.
"We have a great squad depth. All of them are pretty competitive. We will closely monitor our results in I-League as we will be more than half-way through the league when the AFC cup matches start. Based on our performance in I-League, we will be shuffling our squad. We are also targeting two other foreigners who will play exclusively in the AFC Cup," informed Badadhe.
The tactician also took a dig at East Bengal, keeping in line the bitter relationship that the Chandigarh-based club shares with the Kolkata giant.
"If I don't crack the A License then it will not be an issue as I will come back stronger. Anyways I have learnt a lot while undergoing the course. East Bengal have been trying to win the I-League for 15 years but they are not able to win it. I don't think so they are going to win it because we are going to win it again," chuckled the former Maharashtra U17 coach.
We can already expect a fiesty encounter when East Bengal take on Minerva at the Salt Lake Stadium on December 4, 2018.