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Training Relief: Ranjit Bajaj Offers AIFF Minerva Facilities For Junior Teams’ Camps

Despite being at loggerheads with the AIFF over various issues over the past few years, the Minerva head has offered up the Academy facilities for use of the U-16 boys and U-17 girls teams. With time running out and a host of fixtures coming up the AIFF is also stuck regarding the senior team. Derecognition, funding cuts and travel restrictions mean the federation needs to plan fast and plan smart to ensure India are ready when the ball gets rolling.
Between 2015-20 Minerva have won six national titles at the senior and junior levels, which includes the I-League in 2017-18. (Picture courtesy: AIFF)

Between 2015-20 Minerva have won six national titles at the senior and junior levels, which includes the I-League in 2017-18. (Picture courtesy: AIFF)

Is the Covid-19 pandemic bringing known adversaries in Indian football closer to each other? If the proposal sent to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) by Minerva Academy boss Ranjit Bajaj is to be believed in both ‘letter and spirit’, then a new normal has emerged.

On Friday, Bajaj made an offer, which, under the current circumstances, could be of serious help to everyone concerned. In a letter to the AIFF general secretary, he offered the sprawling 14-acre Minerva Academy facilities in Mohali absolutely free of cost for the use of India’s Under-16 boys and Under-17 women’s preparations.

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“I am reaching out to you today to offer up the Minerva Academy campus in Mohali for training camps of the India teams for the upcoming U-17 Women’s World Cup and the AFC U-16 Championship,” Bajaj said, in his letter to the federation, adding that the uncertainty during the pandemic meant losing precious time with the team was unable to train. “Meanwhile, other countries like Australia, South Korea, Uzbekistan have already started their training and are gaining advantage over us. It is imperative that our teams start their training immediately,” the letter adds.

The letter further details out the top class facilities available in his academy including a gym, swimming pool, physiotherapy and wellness clinic, mess with specialised chef and athletic diet, hostels, classroom, auditorium, basketball court, volleyball court etc.

“I am happy to offer up all these facilities to the national teams absolutely free of cost. Minerva Academy will bear the entire cost of accommodation, meals, training, medical care, usage of grounds and classrooms etc of the players and support staff of the teams so that they can commence their training at the earliest without worrying about the details,” the letter further said.  

Many may find the offer shocking, including the AIFF. Ever since Minerva FC joined the mainstream of Indian football in 2015-16, not a season has passed when the Punjab outfit and the federation have not been at loggerheads, leading to lowly personal attacks from both sides.

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Bajaj was at the forefront whenever there was fresh trouble. A certain section in the AIFF chose to paint him in poor light. A particular official went a step ahead to describe Bajaj as the “cancer” of Indian football.

The Minerva boss was no saint either. He began a campaign via social media, where he launched vicious attacks on senior federation officials and its marketing partners. In the meantime, to Bajaj’s credit, Minerva coolly walked away with six national titles at the senior and junior levels.

The current offer, however, can solve a few problems. Sources say the AIFF is looking for training grounds and hotels in Goa for both the Under-16 boys and Under-17 girls national squads. As most hotels in Goa are not yet fully open, finding the right accommodation could be a struggle.

Chandigarh and Mohali, on the other hand, are not badly struck by the pandemic. The number of Covid-19 affected patients has not crossed the 500 mark there.

But then, even if the federation decides to accept the Minerva offer, the offer is limited to the junior teams. They will still have to find a suitable venue for the senior team, who start their unfinished World Cup qualifying campaign in October.

Croatian coach Igor Stimac has indicated he wanted an eight-week camp, preferably in Europe, something that puts the AIFF in a tight spot. There are too many uncertainties present. 

Travelling outside the country is still an uncertainty. The Sports Ministry has already indicated it may be forced to cut down on foreign exposure tours because of financial constraints. Moreover, AIFF is one of the 54 national federations to be derecognized as per the Delhi High Court order. The government will be in no position to clear grants till the order is withdrawn. 

With football having come to a standstill since the third week of March, India have a few important international campaigns lined up from October. 

Igor Stimac’s men will play three matches in October and November. The Under-16 team will play their Asian Championships Group C games against formidable opponents, South Korea, Australia and Uzbekistan in November-December. In February, India will play their group league matches in the Under-17 women’s World Cup in Guwahati.

With time running out, the AIFF has to take an urgent call on preparatory camps once the government gives the go ahead signal. First they may need to fix the venues for them.

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