New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) Soccer entrepreneur Ranjit Bajaj might have sold his stakes in I-League club Minerva Punjab FC, but he has not lost sight of his ultimate goal of producing world-class footballers in India. In fact, Bajaj will continue to run the Minerva Football Academy as he wishes to one day see his boys go ahead and represent the country in a World Cup.

Speaking to IANS, Bajaj said that he has only given away his stakes in the I-League club and will very much continue to work at the grassroots level as he runs the academy with hope of nurturing fresh talent who he would one day like to see as “world cup boys”. In fact, he has set himself a 14-year target to realise the dream.

“Legacy is not winning the I-League, legacy is producing India’s first World Cup team or you can say ‘World Cup Boys’. So, that is why the aim is 2034,” he said, explaining the rationale behind selling a successful team that rose to become a champion after starting as underdogs.

“My academy, my land, everything is with me. I have only sold the I-League club, the current team with all its players. So, everything else, the infrastructure, the coaches all are still with me. Like every year, I will start from the scratch once again. I am not going anywhere and neither is my academy. I can never abandon Indian football,” he said talking about his decision to sell FC Punjab to lifestyle and well-being firm RoundGlass.

Bajaj, who has been a cricket administrator as well, is crystal clear about his plans and cites loads of past achievements to emphasise that he is on right track.

“If I can make a squad in two years which can beat India’s U-17 World Cup team, so, think if I start with five-year-old boys, scouting best talents from all over India and spend money on them over the next ten years — that I would have invested in the I League in the following seasons — a future World Cup team can be prepared. I-League, I have won all of them — U-13, U-15, U-18 and the senior league,” he said expressing satisfaction that FC Punjab is in safe hands as RoundGlass is an extremely professional organisation.

He said that setting short term targets has been the biggest mistake of Indian football planners. “In 2014 we said we will qualify for 2018 World Cup, then we set the target on 2022. Now the target is 2026. If you look at Japan, they are already number one in Asia and even they have set their sight on winning the World Cup in 2050. That means those who will win the World Cup for Japan are not even born yet,” Bajaj pointed.

“This year we have changed the name of the club from Minerva Punjab FC to Punjab FC. I have sold Punjab FC and not Minerva FC. We are now registered with Punjab Football Association as Minerva Academy Football Club again,” he said adding that his academy has already given several international players to Indian football, first World Cup goal and first win over Argentina in U-20 match.

“I can make world-class academy here, I have my own swimming pool, gym and physiotherapy centre,” said Bajaj who has come a long way from being a member of the under 19 squad which represented India in school games in Malaysia.

But he got sports administration exposure in England where he picked up part-time jobs as security boy in football grounds during his college days that enabled him to get inside view of how clubs were being run at the highest level.

“So, I was actually being paid for something which I loved and I thought, wow!” he said.

Bajaj returned to India thinking about replicating his experiences but instead of football he joined the Punjab Cricket Association and became manager of the Pakistan cricket team touring India for an International Cricket Council (ICC) trophy. He ventured back into football to dissuade youth in Chandigarh from taking drugs which had become a major social concern in Punjab.

He chose football, his first love, despite running a successful cricket academy alongside the football academy that produced stars like Manpreet Gony and Shubman Gill. Bajaj formed a team in 2013 from the scratch and soon made an impression at the national level competing with giants like Dempo, Mohammedan Sporting and others, finally making into the I-League.

“We made a team which though had players like Manveer, Aniroodh Thapa, Lalampua and Love De. All these players are now doing well in the circuit. In the last session, we again started from the scratches. And you can see that we did well this time which established the fact that we may not buy success, but can produce it,” he smiled.

–IANS

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