I-League 2018-19: Minerva Punjab defender, part of East Bengal win, becomes league’s youngest-ever player
Minerva Punjab got the better of East Bengal for the first time in their history. The 1-0 away win at Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday lifted them to the second position of the table. The team along with the coach and owner are overjoyed with the win. Amid the success, Minerva also put their name on the history books.
Thoiba Singh Moirangthem, the boy from Manipur became the youngest player ever to play in the I-League. He had made his debut this season against Indian Arrows in the last match when he started as a central midfielder. Against East Bengal, he was deployed in the same role helped the team to keep a second successive clean sheet.
Thoiba was born on December 12, 2002, which means he will turn 16 just after eight days. No other U-16 player has made an appearance in the I-League so far. Before him, Ninthoi Meetei of Indian Arrows was the youngest player in the I-League when he made his debut against Minerva Punjab on December 5, 2017, at the age of 16 years four months and 22 days.
Sportskeeda contacted Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj after the match and he said, “He's just 15 or 16 and has come back from one of those AIFF age group tournaments. Today he played as a central defender but in the last match against Arrows, we played him in different positions - defender, winger and as an attacking midfielder.”
Thoiba Singh became the cynosure of all eyes after his heroics in the Nike Premier Cup final earlier this year. Not only he scored two goals, but also played his duties as a central defender to help Minerva win the third straight title.
Minerva are also one of the top teams who have strongest youth league squad. They make regular appearances in different level of age group tournaments. They’ve also won the U-13 I-League this year. Apart from that, they are also giving utmost importance to U-11 and U-15 teams. Elaborating on this, Bajaj had said yesterday, “Teams often give importance to U-18 squad. But U-18 is not our future, because after three years they’ll become senior. Our future is U-11 and U-13. If the big clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and others follow Minerva’s youth development then they’ll not have to buy players from other clubs. They will get talented players from their academy.”
Bajaj also happy with the coach for giving chances to young players like Arshdeep Singh, Akash Sangwan and foreigner William Opoku along with Thoiba. He said, “The coach is giving chances to these young players and it's a good thing. Initially, people thought he will only be fielded against about Arrows. But looking at the way he performed against East Bengal, I have to say age doesn't matter. It's about how good you are and how good you believe you are.”
On this note, he also rued how the clubs are fielding young players just for the sake of the rule. Apart from Minerva, Indian Arrows and Shillong Lajong are giving local footballers a chance to show their mettle. “Apart from Arrows and Shillong, no one is giving chances to youngsters. The rule, instead of fielding one U-22 players for I-League club, should be changed. The AIFF should instead ask clubs to field one U-18 player at least and play him for the full 90 minutes,” Bajaj said.
“Imagine if you have 11 players getting 90 minutes every game. You will be able to easily form your U-18 side. You have to work on the U-16 and the younger guys to get the teams for the future. This has to be done if Indian football wants to get anywhere close to their Europeans counterparts,” he added. His opinion came on view of the fact that East Bengal have fielded Manoj Mohammed, Kamalpreet Singh and Yami Longvah – three U-22 players against Minerva.
However, Bajaj is overjoyed with the win against East Bengal and said he’s happy after fulfilling a target. “I had set myself a couple of targets before the season started. We had never beaten East Bengal and also had never defeated Aizawl in an away game. Two of those targets have been achieved. Now, we’re onto the third target. I want the club to do what no other Indian club has achieved before and qualify for the AFC Champions League. Qualifying for the main round will be a historical moment for an Indian club.”
Minerva are slated to face Saipa of Iran in an AFC Champions League qualifier on Feb 12, 2019. If they win that encounter, they will battle with Al Rayyan for a slot in the AFC Champions League group stage.
Suppose they fail that test, Minerva will drop to Group E of the AFC Cup in a pool that features ISL winners Chennaiyin FC.