It was on 10th April, just five days back, when Indian Footballing circuit was stunned by a historic sell-off between Ranjit Bajaj and RoundGlass Sports Private Limited, where the “rebellious one” of Indian Football decided to hand over his remaining 50 per cent stake of Punjab FC to the Mohali-based lifestyle firm.
It was a long awaited decision which however, caused huge uproar from all the corners of the country. From his well-wishers, to his staunch critic- everyone might have been swept off their chair, when the troublemaker in the corridor of AIFF, called it a day. The news triggered so many questions – – – When would he return to Indian Football? When can we see Ranjit Bajaj shouting his lungs out from the sidelines? When can we see those protruding veins complimenting his hair-rising motivational speech in front of the top class footballers?
IFTWC Exclusive brings to you all the answers as Ranjit Bajaj opened up for the first time after leaving Punjab FC and guess what, the maverick owner of Minerva Academy, straight-away fires a missile onto the hearts of his critics as he promises to be back in the top tier of Indian Football within the next 3 years!
For a person who self admittedly ”wears his heart on his sleeves” Ranjit Bajaj has always been a staunch critic of the way the sport has been administrated in the country. Needless to say he has always been in the firing line from both the top houses of India for his uncalled criticism. Bajaj however never shied away from making a point that he values passion for football, much more than revenue generation from the sport.
In fact, Bajaj was seen as the de facto leader-of-opposition to the ISL regime and a rigid trespasser on AIFF’s proposed happy marriage of I-League & ISL; which indeed was never happy. Bajaj’s Minerva Punjab FC Burst onto the scene at a time when ISL’s inception happened. However the maverick from Chandigarh never wanted to pay a hefty sum of money as a “franchise fee” to enter into the showbiz and glamorous side of the two faced character of Indian Football -the Indian Super League.
In the rocky months of July’19, Indian Football underwent through some massive changes when ISL was recognised as the topmost league ahead of I- League. Amid such circumstances and an uncertain future of broadcast of I-League; it was Ranjit Bajaj who proved to be the father figure of the fight against AIFF while having the support of 5 other I-League Clubs, including heavyweights like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal. Bajaj went to an extent of writing a letter to FIFA Acting Deputy Secretary General (Football) Mattias Grafstrom, pleading the world governing body of the sport to intervene and help the top clubs of Indian football who were fighting for their survival. However it was until Oct’19 that none in the circuit actually knew about the future road-map of Indian Football.
On 14th October 2019, ISL stated in a press release that it has been granted the numero uno status by AFC. Furthermore, it cleared the air on the uncertainty of the future roadmap as the press release clearly stated that the Hero I-League champions will stand a chance a get into ISL by the time 2022-23 season starts. Full fledged promotion and relegation was promised by the beginning of the 2023-24 season, which is in 3 years time.
Bajaj, in the exclusive interview to IFTWC, clearly mentioned of targeting the 2023-2024 season as his re-emergence onto the top flight Indian Football. On quizzed on when can Indian Football fans can see him back in action the no-nonsense man opened up :
“The point is that, I will be starting from the scratch and I really think that we should be in the I-League within the next three year!”
This bold statement reassured the amount of confidence this man oozes in his passion. And it always have been like that for this man. From being in the second division to conquering it and then moving on to I-League and owning it as well—success have never had any enmity with Bajaj. Minerva Punjab FC probably have won everything that a football club in India would want to. And the flamboyant owner of that success story believes in only one mantra–“Self-belief” .
“Just believe in yourself. That’s the success mantra. Every team of Minerva be it seniors or juniors had one question to answer before going inside the field—Who are we? The only answer to that for every boy is—We are the Champions! So the moment they go out to play they don’t need to doubt themselves. They know they are the champions and they have to give a performance which suits them.In life, it’s all about belief. You already win, lose or draw the match before you start the match— that’s what I believe. It’s all in the mind.”
The same vibe resonates in his voice when he says he wants to be in the top flight of Indian Football within 3 years. Incidentally, Minerva Academy Football Club has had a fantastic club record, which perhaps gives him such confidence on the ability of his team, even if he has left the legacy.
“ I want to be in top football; that means if I started in Second Division now there’s no way I will not be winning the title in this year or maybe the next year. It’s as simple as that. You will see me in I League for sure within 3 years.”
Bajaj, passion and success—these 3 words have always been synonymous with one another. The cult hero from North India has never made any compromise with his passion. Be it watching his side play a competitive match from the roof of the stadium or taking AIFF for a court-ride- Ranjit Bajaj have always thrived in football. He accepts it as way of life and will remain committed to the cause even after his separation from Punjab FC. He has identified grassroot as the most important factor to look after in Indian Football.
Quizzed on his upcoming project the maverick promises to be the torch-bearer of youth development in India.
“The best and most exciting upcoming project which is close to my heart is the World Cup 2034 batch. We have taken boys from all over India and half the trials were completed before the Coronavirus. We’ve selected 65-70 boys who are going to have 100% of their education, food and stay taken care by Minerva Academy. The first slot will not be for one year, not for three years or five years, but for 10 long years.”
Bajaj, whose club Minerva Punjab FC surprised Indian football fraternity by winning I-League title in 2017-18, has a never ending ambition for success which echoes in his words :
“If you believe that you’re good enough then surely you are good enough. In those ninety minutes if you think you can stop the best player in the world, you can surely stop him. If you have any doubts about yourself the enemy will take out all those doubts and smack you to the floor!”
As we approached the fag end of our motivation masterclass one question was rife in our mind. Is he targeting the third year so that he can get the promotion and go for the only trophy missing in his cabinet- ISL?
But afterall he is the most swashbuckling owner of a football club this country has ever seen.
“ I want to be in the top flight within third year because the promotion and relegation starts in third year.”
That’s Ranjit Bajaj who actually took out all our doubts and smacked us onto the floor.
We from IFTWC wish him all the luck he deserves for his #Factory of Minerva Academy and would hope he continues with the midas touch of his own!