A new look and new hope, RoundGlass Punjab FC are starting afresh in the I-League come the 2020-21 season.
Minerva FC, and then Minerva Punjab FC, played four seasons in the I-League, finishing third last year, their best-ever finish after winning the title in 2017/18, a year after they had been promoted to the league.
Curtis Fleming, coach of RoundGlass Punjab FC, wants to build a lasting legacy for not only the team by adding new supporters while keeping the old fans of the erstwhile Minerva Punjab.
"We are a new entity and we have to start somewhere. No club ever starts with 100,000 fans. It is something that we have to work on every season, even the big clubs in these Covid times because of the financial expectations. How you sell a new entity is by bringing in a style of football and building trust with our Punjab fan base," said Fleming during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
"I'm from a small country called Ireland where we have a population of 6 million. In Punjab we have about 33 million. So please don't tell me we can't get any fans from that.
"Football is a global game and it is going to get bigger and bigger in India. Fans want to be entertained so I think in the I-League, we need to play some good football and attract fans. It won't happen in one season, this is a foundation season for us," he added.
As for the task at hand, Fleming feels the fourteenth season of I-League will be “a sprint, not a marathon”
“All (teams) are special. Every game will bring in new challenges. Mohammedan is famous for its rich legacy. The north-eastern clubs always surprise you with their exciting players. It’s going to be a terrific league. We’ll treat everyone with the same respect. This (I-League) is going to be a sprint, not a marathon.”
Fleming is sure that some of the title-winning players in his squad will add to the raw young talents and complement each other in the coming season.
“We have some really good young players, as well as some big names. We are really excited to see the league kicking off. There’s a perfect balance in the squad. Young guys won’t succeed if experienced ones don’t help. In the same way, if the youngsters don’t support, senior boys can’t match the expectation. At the end of the day, the team-work makes it possible,” said the former Irish national team defender.
Chencho Gyeltshen, who was also present at the press conference, was full of praise for some of the youngsters in the team, like Bikash Yumnam and Hormipam.
“We have some talented young players who dream big to achieve more. They’re the future of Indian football. I’m really happy to work with them. First and foremost, they are good characters who are hungry,” the Bhutanese forward said.
Chencho was part of Minerva Punjab FC's I-League-winning team, scoring seven goals and was awarded the best forward award in I-League 2017-18.
When asked how it was to come back to India and play for the Punjab team again, Chencho said: “Playing in India is always exciting. I have some really nicer memories of playing in India, especially in Kolkata. I get so many messages and good luck wishes from Bhutan before every match. They pray for me and I’m really happy to have earned so many supporters in India. I want to thank them all.”
As for the I-League, it will be played behind closed doors and with all Covid-19 protocols in place, with matches being held in three stadiums - the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Stadium, the Kalyani Municipal Stadium and the Kishore Bharati Krirangan.
“Football is nothing without fans. Players like us don’t enjoy playing in an empty stadium. But, this is the best possible solution given the current circumstances and we’ll need to adjust to the new normal life. Although we don’t feel any pressure, we just need to adjust to the new normal,” Chencho said.
Coach Fleming too reiterated the need to adjust to the 'new normal' and how RoundGlass Punjab FC are working on taking the pressure off the players.
“As Chencho said, it’s the new normal and we will need to adjust that. Our preparation is going really well and we are glad to have received the kind hospitality. We schedule regular zoom calls to interact. A professional psychologist has been appointed by the club to take care of the players’ mental health. We have never been through this before so we need to maintain the shape mentally. We have yoga sessions to elevate their concentration level and it has been really effective,” Fleming said.
RoundGlass Punjab FC kick-off their campaign against Aizawl FC at the Kalyani Stadium at 04:00 PM.