Minerva Punjab under Bookies' Radar, Ranjit Bajaj Discusses the Unfortunate Incident with Jersey

Sabari Jagannathan  |  Tragedy  |  1 Year Ago

Elephant in the Indian football room, through the eyes of Ranjit Bajaj


The hottest news in the town is the title challenge mounted by one of the most exciting clubs in the I-League. Though Minerva Football academy has been around for a long time now, it is only after the FIFA U-17 World Cup that the club shot to fame among all football fans. The Academy's young colts defeated the Indian U-17 team just months prior the tournament and some of the stars from that match took their rightful places in the Indian World Cup squad. When Jeakson leaped to score that historic goal, it was a recognition for the entire club, the academy and the owner. While even the biggest of Indian football clubs don't have an academy to boast of, Minerva Academy is gifting excellent prospects for the national colours. 


Just a few months down the lane, Minerva Punjab are all set to create history with their maiden I-league title in just their second season. Things could not have been better for Ranjit Bajaj, the passionate owner of the club.


Yet  their club was shocked by match fixing attempt made to their players in the last fortnight.  


We had an opportunity to discuss the unfortunate incident with their charismatic owner, Ranjit Bajaj. 


Ranjit Bajaj is not your typical club owner who sits on the stands in a suit and tie, he is this special kind who doesn't mind being right at the match officials’ face when he feels his team is being treated unfairly. The man who once went on to rooftop of a nearby building to watch his team in action is never the one to mince his words. It is fair to say that he is of the Wenger mould. The cult feel that he brings to his team, the Us vs Rest of the world mentality he brings to the squad and the fans are resonant to that of the current Arsenal manager. Just like Arsene, people who know Ranjit will vouch for his kind heart and his immense passion towards the growth of his club, more importantly of that of his country. 


And that is exactly what made this owner to take it to Twitter when the two of his players were approached to fix matches. 


"Two of my players were approached by these bookies. One Indian player got these random calls which he hung up. One of my foreign player was contacted through Facebook posing as a fan and then via WhatsApp. The number used was from Spain. They offered him 30 lakhs. I called AIFF integrity  officer immediately that night and  later the  next day morning. We sent the screenshot along with reports to AIFF and AFC. I cannot let this happen. It is coming to light only because I reported it. "


The incident shook the entire Indian football circuit. There were repercussions throughout and the complaint was duly submitted to AIFF and AFC. 


I was slightly apprehensive of his decision to go public with this complaint as I felt it could sabotage the tournament but when I questioned the same he gave strong reasons for doing so. In what came as a big surprise this was the first time such an incident has been reported in Indian football. The chances are very little that it was the first attempt made at any Indian club/player. Now that the players are so easily accessible, it is likely that multiple attempts could have been made already on players before. With very little risk involved in getting to the players, the bookies could make money out of any one of the international betting sites. 


"Indian football will die before it even begins if this kind of things happen. This is the first such complaint by an Indian club. It is tough to believe that this has not been happening. The match officials who earn in peanuts are so vulnerable. The players are easily accessible unlike in cricket. There lies the biggest problem. Now any poor referee who makes a wrong decision at any moment would be questioned and that is the shame"


The Indian football should be thankful that the "right" players were approached by the bookies. On another day, another player would have been easily swayed by the money on offer. One can figure out his disappointment with the little effort taken to protect the footballers from such agents. When he explains how vulnerable referees are given that they earn in peanuts, it is difficult not to be concerned. 


Minerva Punjab FC has taken a giant stride towards the Championship after their win against Neroca yesterday. The decision to come out with the events before their crunch game against Neroca was befuddling given that it will be an added pressure on his players but his players, just like their owner didn't shy away from the limelight. 


When asked about the mood in the dressing room ahead of the match, Ranjit sounded resoundingly positive. He said:


"The mood in the camp is extremely positive. The boys are doing fine. They are focused on the job at hand. We are sure the entire India will be rooting for us and we are focused to get the job done against Neroca."


Just like every other avid football fan in this country we were very much interested to know the duo who stood out for their integrity off the field but Ranjit declined to name them. He however confirmed us that he rewarded them for their honesty and told us that he was looking forward to naming them as soon as the pressure is off. 


"I don't want to reveal their names yet. I have rewarded them for their honesty and will soon come out with their names. But I want the squad focused on the upcoming games. I hope their name doesn't leak in the process of investigation. But surely I will come out with their names. We will travel with additional private securities when we travel away" 


Ranjit Bajaj has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, receiving bans from the federation and AIFF hasn't been kind to him. He had the right to feel undone multiple times by the AIFF. When we asked him whether he feels his relationship with AIFF would affect this investigation, he was not mincing his words and was straightforward with his response. 


"I really hope it does not affect the investigation. Infact it should not. The FIR and all should be filed from their side as it will be that much more effective. I hope they are proactive in the investigation!"


You might like him or hate him but Indian football is that much more richer for having personalities like him. Ranjit Bajaj has a mission to see the Indian team play the FIFA World Cup in 2030 and for that to happen, we could do with a few more Minerva Academies and few more of Ranjit Bajajs. 


It is time for AIFF to address the big elephant in the room. As Ranjit pointed out this menace of fixing could end the football revolution in India even before it kicks off to full speed. A strong statement should be made by AIFF by the bringing the culprits to justice and ample measures need to be taken that such unfortunate incidents don't repeat ever again. 


The club who made it to the I-League only last season after Dempo pulled out are on the verge of being crowned champions. It is safe to say their season will be remembered for more than just the one reason. 

Should AIFF come out with the names of the Players?
Of Course, just to validate the charges
No, it will hinder the Investigation


Owned by Turtle Media and Communication, Jersey football magazine is a monthly that covers the wide spectrum of modern football from around the world. We are a team of football journos spread across the globe dedicated to offer insights and opinions of the world football as a key ingredient of sports journalism.

Launched in 2016 in New Delhi, Jersey is the first magazine globally to have such a wide range of offerings to our fanbase via Print and Digital media, Social Platform, YouTube Channel, and Jersey Football League etc.We are proud to call ourselves – The Indian Football magazine.