MINERVA PUNJAB FC HAVE sold half their stakes to grassroots development organization RoundGlass Sports.
The club which entered the top division league in 2016-17 via a direct corporate entry and the very next season they won the league, becoming the Champions of India.
The club's main source of silverware, however, has been youth football. MPFC have won the U-13, U-16 (3 times) and U-18 youth leagues over the last 5 years, making them the most successful club in the country in youth football in recent times.
RoundGlass Sports, who have been active in grassroots development in sports like football and hockey, will see a significant boost to their football youth development programmes with the deal giving them access to the Minerva Punjab youth roster. They can also use their own network of grassroots recruitments to field teams in the youth leagues through Minerva Punjab.
There are indications that the deal includes a provision for outright purchase of the club for RoundGlass. For now, though, the founder of the club Ranjit Bajaj will remain in control of the club's senior team, as equal partners in the operations of the club.
Bajaj has been an outspoken critic of the All India Football Federation's repeated mistreatment of I-League and the independent clubs that play in the top divsion league, including their efforts to forcefully relegate them to second tier. He has been involved in several controversial incidents and multiple lawsuits against the AIFF, and has indicated that I-League clubs may go to court if AIFF forcefully relegates them.
It remains to be seen if the new partners bring any change in the club's hard line approach against the Federation's conducts. But Ranjit Bajaj has in past interviews expressed the wish to sell part or all of the club, which indicates he may exit in the future.
MPFC have decided to field a mostly U-21 side in I-League 2019-20. The move mirrors the initiative by Shillong Lajong in 2018-19 of fielding only their academy graduates, knowingly courting the risk of relegation to reduce the team budget since they were aware that AIFF might move to forcefully relegate them at the end of the season anyway. Whether or not MPFC's turn towards a less experienced squad and partnering up with a grassroots-first organization indicates a pivot towards a future where the club exists mostly as a youth development organization remains to be seen.