The league toppers are unbeaten at home, with three wins in four matches.
Leicester City showed that to win the Premier League it is not necessary to have a cash rich squad. Their success in the 2015-16 EPL was achieved on a shoe string budget. Leicester City did not try to play like Barcelona, “tiki-taka” and long bouts of possession football. They defended in depth and counter-attacked with pace, using Jamie Vardy’s speed to great effect.
Their playing style re-enforced the fact that there is no magic in systems. It is the cohesion, confidence and abilities of players that count.
Based on the same philosophy, Minerva Punjab FC could become the Leicester City of the 11th Hero I-League if they maintain their winning sequence and fitness. They also reply on depth in defence and quick counter attacks. Credit was given to the backroom staff of Leicester City, the scouts who chose lesser known players meticulously and only those who fitted into their system. Their Italian manager Claudio Ranieri also got plaudits for spotting potential in players, nurturing them and playing to their strengths.
Similarly, Minerva Punjab FC discarded all their foreign imports from last season and got new overseas players who fitted into their system, for bargain prices. Ghanaian midfielder William Asiedu has excelled with his probing passes. The real revelation has been Chencho Gyeltshen, nicknamed the Bhutanese Cristiano Ronaldo. With his speed, quick control and measured passing he destroyed Mohun Bagan at Kolkata and is his club’s top scorer with four goals from eight matches.
Ironically, Gyeltshen was keen to play for one of the Kolkata clubs in this season’s I-League. But both Kolkata clubs spurned the offer, thinking that a player from the low profile Bhutan league would never cope with the demand of the I-League.
Similarly, last season the Syrian international Mahmoud al Amna was rejected by East Bengal’s officials as they felt he was too old.
Al Amna excelled in Aizawl’s unexpected win the 10th I-League. This season he has joined East Bengal at an exorbitant transfer fee. The same could be the case with Gyeltshen next season.
Recruitment of mediocre foreign players is preventing the Kolkata clubs from dominating the I-League.
At the half way stage of the I-League, Minerva sponsored by the Apollo group, are top of the table with 19 points from eight matches. Second placed East Bengal have played a match more and are on 18 points. The yet to be played home and away matches between Minerva and East Bengal could well decide the winner of the 11th I-League.
If Minerva can maintain their form they can provide yet another fairytale ending to the I-League. Last season Aizawl FC became unexpected champions with an impeccable home record of eight wins and one draw.
The league toppers are unbeaten at home, with three wins in four matches. In four away matches Minerva have beaten Indian Arrows, Gokulam Kerala and mighty Mohun Bagan. They could well become the first team from the land of the five rivers to win the coveted I-League. The now defunct JCT won the inaugural National Football League in 1997 but never won the I-League.