BAGDEB Exclusive: Up close and personal with Minerva Punjab owner Mr. Ranjit Bajaj.
Last Updated 3:55 PM 10th January 2020 .
Punjab FC owner Ranjit Bajaj requires no introduction as he is one of the most popular faces among the Indian football enthusiasts. Witty, Bold and Straight forward as always Mr. Ranjit Bajaj shared his thoughts in an exclusive conversation with BADGEB Fan’s club ahead of Punjab FC vs Quess East Bengal FC tomorrow.
In 2017-18 you were the champions but last year it didn’t go well for your side, what do you make out of it and what changes (if any) have you done for this season?
We couldn’t replicate our 2017-18 season again because of the big two. They are like the Manchester City or Chelsea of Indian football. They are the best clubs and they want the best players and clubs like ours find it very difficult to retain players. If you see the last 5 years, no team has repeated their title winning performance. Even Chennai City will not be able to replicate what they did last season since they were unable to retain their best players. It takes time for the new players to settle, so hopefully Champions-9th-and Champions again (laughs).
Punjab FC has the youngest coach in all of I-League, what made you put your trust onto him, given some of the players are older than him?
Yeah.. 80% of my senior team is older than my coach; but the point is Minerva Punjab never believes in age, we look at their abilities, that is why we are able to produce such great players. Similarly, until or unless you give these new coaches chances, then what’s the point of an AFC A licence at the age of 26 if he doesn’t get an oppurtunity. Imagine after 10 years, he wins 2-3 national titles, he could be in line for the Indian coach at 35, perhaps one of the youngest ever.
We need young coaches, we do not need people who are 60-70, who are looking and boasting of 20 titles which perhaps they won 10 years ago. If you see around the world, the best coaches are in their 40s and they have started coaching at a very early age. So unless you give these guys an oppurtunity, they will rot on the bench and by the time they are 55, we would have wasted another good coach.
Punjab FC has always been doing excessively well in the junior and sub-junior levels for quite some time now, what has been the secret to this success, tell us about the youth development program of Punjab FC?
The secret is, the U15 title that we’ve won 4 times in a row, it was a different team everytime. We have been able to replace our entire team each of the 4 times by doing our scouting all over. I think, I have proven to Indian football that there is nothing known as talent, but only hard-work and proper training. If you give proper training and hard-work, you can churn footballers out.
We have now 83 boys across various age groups selected to the Indian team in 4 years, including 6 this year, which is more than combined total of all I-Leaague and ISL teams put together. So I now want to battle next 3 years in going all over India searching boys who are 5-6-7 and making my academy produce a batch for the 2034 World Cup. My aim is to get India into the 2034 World Cup, which is only possible if we start getting kids from the age 5-6-7.
The fight for existence in Indian football has been well documented now. The Club association, the boycotting of Super Cup, then AIFF publishing the Roadmap, are you happy with the outcome of all of it?
See, at least there is light at the end of the tunnel. Earlier there was no light. Earlier, they said the only way to get into the top league is if you pay 15 crores a year to a private person. Now after the roadmap, it is now based on sporting merit. If you’re good enough, you deserve to be there and you don’t have to pay any money.
I think the top league of the nation should not be decided on who has more money but rather who has more sporting merit. Also the top league of a country should not be owned by a private person, it should always be owned by the federation. (How can the top league be owned by a private person?).
So these were the things which we fought against and hopefully the second part will also be sorted out soon being the first part has been sorted out. My battle was to see that the I-League survives for 4-5 years till the time the Relegation and promotion starts.
We all are seeing how D Sports are telecasting the I-League, none of the fans are happy with the broadcast, what is your view on it?
It is not the telecaster D-Sports who are at fault, it is Instat, the production house who are messing up. The telecasters are uplinking whatever is given to them. I want to ensure that the clubs can start the production themselves. “Humare paas channel agaya gai, hum ab khud production kar sakte hai, itni bhi kya badi baat hai“.
You have a well-known history with the East Bengal fans now, last season on the last match they hoped on you to stop Chennai City FC, what do you think about this rivalry with the East Bengal fans?
I don’t understand one thing, if Minerva would have been that good last season, woudn’t Minerva won the title for themselves? East Bengal also went there and lost. Everyone went there to Chennai and lost. We were still winning till the most of the game. We had to replace two foreigners, one was because of injury and the other was pre-decided as we had to bring Chote on. If you remember, we also defeated East Bengal at YBK and in the 65th min I replaced my foreigner with 17 year old Chote, from whose cross Willian Opoku scored. No one batted an eye then.
Against Chennai the ref gave the penalty and when they made it 1-1, they got uplifted and with title in sight you know what happens. We were already safe from relegation, so I couldn’t pump up my players more. Even ex East Bengal player Amna was in our team, you can ask him how much we tried to win against Chennnai. I will again say, I will die but never throw a match.
You must be knowing about the scenario about East Bengal and Quess and rumours about them leaving at the end of this season. Do you think it will effect Indian football or Kolkata football?
Imagine Quess leaves, but someone should come right who has the money to keep things running. Now imagine, if the next someone, who comes with the money and puts in even worse “conditions” to totally break the existing system then what will you guys do. You guys had someone who was willing to invest and build a team.
You should see what your team was doing last-to-last year and how they are doing after Quess has come in. How have results improved and how have off field performances improved and ask the players about the professionalism of Quess while giving their salaries and ask the same players who were there 2 years ago, how they used to cry for salaries. I am not talking about just East Bengal but Mohun Bagan also. The players too have families to look after and if even after playing at the biggest clubs you don’t get salaries for 3 months, then it is wrong. Dicka was telling me that last year Bagan officials stopped providing his rent and he was almost thrown out of his home in Kolkata. This is absolutely wrong.
It should be the players who should be given the highest prority, but officials in Kolkata think they are bigger than the players. The fans are the number – 1, then comes the players, then the staffs and coaches and then lastly should come the officials in the heirarchy.
So, before ending, last question, What are your predictions about tomorrow’s match against East Bengal?
Prediction is one thing and what your heart wants is different. My brain is saying it might be a draw, but my heart wants it to be a win. I have asked my players for a win tomorrow against East Bengal as a birthday gift to me (laughs).
In my last 4 years, we have never been able to defeat East Bengal at home. Honestly, I got into football so that I can tell my grandchildren that we beat East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. So my dream is still unfulfilled and hope it fulfills soon.
Also, just to inform you, we have made separate away section for the East Bengal fans who will be travelling and they can carry all banners/flags/tifos into the stadium (signs off).