Minerva Punjab FC set for I-League campaign sans Jeakson and Anwar

Prior to the tourney, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had announced that the core of the U-17 team, along with promising U-19 players will play together for the Indian Arrows in the I-League, which meant they couldn't return to their respective clubs.

Jaekson Singh FIFA U-17 World Cup

Minerva Punjab FC will be without U-17 World Cup stars Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali at this year's I-League.   -  PTI

Minerva Punjab FC is all set for its second I-League season where it will face off Mohun Bagan in the opening encounter on Saturday. However, the side will miss the services of Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali - key components of the Indian U-17 squad at the recently concluded FIFA Under 17 World Cup.

Jeakson made history when he scored India's first official FIFA goal against Colombia with a towering header, in a game that India went on to lose 3-1.

Prior to the tourney, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had announced that the core of the U-17 team, along with promising U-19 players will play together for the Indian Arrows in the I-League, which meant they couldn't return to their respective clubs.

Minerva's owner, Ranjit Bajaj, had mixed reactions about the same. "We received a notice from the AIFF that in the interest of the future of Indian football, Jeakson Singh and Anwar Ali should be allowed to play for the Arrows team. The U-17 coach, Luis Norton de Matos, had specially requested that Anwar and Jeakson be a part of the squad as they are regular starters for the team."

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How does this affect his team's interests?

"According to me, more people in India know Jeakson than Sunny Norde today and he would've been my biggest hit. He would have been our poster boy and I would've generated interest every time he played," remarked Ranjit.

He added, "However, looking at the future, I decided to let him go. I spoke to him and (he) feels it's good for him and he wants to stay with the younger team. I am perfectly fine with that as long as the players come back to me after the one-year loan with the Arrows ends."

Ranjit hopes the Arrows project is not simply a one-year idea and that it is sustained over at least five years. "The AIFF must ensure that this is not just a fly by and that the project continues over a period of five years. They should not have another idea tomorrow and decide to close down the Arrows within a year," he noted.

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Confident coaches

Saturday's encounter against Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan will be a steep challenge for the young Minerva side, but the coaches are confident of a good show.

"We are a young side as compared to them but we have worked really hard and the boys will put up a fight," said Wangkhem Khogen Singh, the side's head-coach.

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Sachin Badadhe, the team's assistant coach, conceded that the side will miss Anwar and Jeakson but it will cope with their absence. "Jeakson and Anwar were important players for us. It is definitely a big loss for us." 

While the club has made many foreign signings this season to fill the gaps left behind by the two boys, Sachin said, "We have more foreign players this time, who are very good, but I am really happy with my Indian players too, who are playing exceptionally well."  

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