The 2017-18 I-League season was a real roller coaster and after four teams went into the final day in the hunt for the trophy, it was Minerva Punjab which emerged as the champion in what was only its second season in the top flight. It was a fairytale victory for the team from the Land of the Five Rivers.
To strengthen its bid to defend its title, the Warriors has added some Northern Irish power to its camp in the form of 36-year-old Paul Munster, who joins the team as a technical director. A former professional player, Munster has featured as a striker in various leagues across the world, winning a number of trophies and also has a UEFA Pro Licence to his name.
AIFF caught up with the former Slavia Prague and Linfield man for an exclusive chat ahead of the new league campaign.
Welcome to India! How has it been adapting to life in Punjab and India so far?
The first few weeks were difficult because of the food. So I lost some weight here, so that's good. (laughs) The people here in Punjab, they're always so welcoming and so kind. It's great to be here.
What attracted you about Minerva? What do you plan to bring to the table at the club?
I had a talk with Ranjit Bajaj about his plans for now and the future, and it seemed very interesting to me. They've won the I-League and will be playing in the AFC Champions League and that really excited me.
As a player and coach, I've won many titles and that is what I want to continue doing here. I want to pass on my expertise along with my winning mentality to the players here while also making sure they're tactically and technically perfect.
What are your thoughts on the pre-season results of the club? Do you feel the team is adequately prepared for the new season?
Pre-season has been going well so far. We've been able to conduct more sessions and play more games which is always a plus point.
As a team, we're improving each day. We've been undefeated in the competitive friendlies and have also won the Punjab Super League for the first time in our history. And this is what I want to do, contribute more towards the recent yet rich history of the club.
What are your expectations from the upcoming campaign? Do you feel Minerva can make it two titles in a row?
100%! This is why I came here. If I didn't believe that we can win two titles in a row, I wouldn't be here. I strongly believe we make it two league titles on the bounce.
How is the team gearing up for the historic AFC Champions League match-up?
This is still a long way off, right now we're focusing on the I-league. But yes, we have one eye on the Champions League tie and the closer we get to it, we'll have full focus on it. And once that happens, we're aiming to create history again.
We're new to this competition but we're ready to cause some major upsets in Asia. We're not here just to be happy about the fact that we're here. We're here to make a mark and show everyone that we're not just here to participate.
Minerva lost a number of key players that led it to the title last time - how do you think it will impact the team?
It's a new season. I believe we have a stronger squad than we had last year. We have a good mixture of experienced and young players who're coming up the academy ladder. None of them were stars before they came here and it's the same this year too. This team is hungrier, more than ever.
What are your thoughts on the new signings - any names that you think will stand out?
I'm expecting every player that we've signed - Indians and foreigners to stand out. Their future is in their own hands and it's up to us to improve them. Every year we will lose key players which means that we're doing our jobs right and it gives a chance for the new players to come in and perform at the highest level.
Please share some insight into the player recruitment process at Minerva. What do you look for in a player and how it is different from other clubs?
Here, we want players with high motivation, the militant drive and burning desire to win with a constant mentality of improving and being better than what he was yesterday. Above all, we need a player with the proverbial ‘Never Say Die’ attitude - just like a warrior.
What message would you like to give the club's fans?
They were excellent last season and we're looking forward to seeing everyone. During a game, it's not just about the 11 warriors on the pitch but the entire army in the stadium. We can guarantee that you all will witness success in what is going to be a long and historic season.
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