For debutants Minerva Punjab FC, the 10th I-League has been a baptism of fire. They play Mohun Bagan in Kolkata on Tuesday, the third of their four successive away games, and may miss technical director Colm Toal for a third of the competition where each team plays 18 games.
“I am very disappointed it’s been like this. It’s already been two games into the season. I am told that a work visa takes between 12 and 18 working days and as soon as I get it, I’ll be on the next flight to India,” Toal told HT from Florida on Monday evening.
Toal, who was India’s technical director and head of the youth development programme from 2007-14, said he applied for the visa on January 4, some 10 days after signing a one-season contract with the new team. It couldn’t happen earlier because of the year-end holidays, said the Englishman.
So, the earliest Toal could be in India would be before Minerva’s fifth-round match, their first home game, against East Bengal on January 29. Or, before they host Churchill Brothers on February 1. After Mohun Bagan, Minerva Punjab FC play Shillong Lajong on Saturday.
After two games, Minerva Punjab FC have one point, from a draw against Chennai City FC in their I-League opener. They lost to Aizawl FC 0-1 in the next round. Now, they are up against former champions Mohun Bagan who have won both games and could give talismanic Haitian star Sony Norde some game time.
“What can I say about playing against the likes of Sony and Jeje (Lalpekhlua)? They are my idols,” said wide player Krishna Pandit at the Mohun Bagan ground on Monday morning. Pandit is one of the products of the Elite Academy of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with Minerva.
During his time as head of youth development, Toal helmed two India under-16 teams that qualified for the finals of the Asian under-16 championships.
What makes Toal’s presence crucial for Minerva is that 10-12 players on their roster have been put through different India age-group teams by him. Even Surinder Singh, Minerva head coach, was on his coaching staff and was Sukhwinder Singh’s deputy at Pailan Arrows, the development team started by AIFF in 2010 and disbanded in 2013.
As part of the India under-16 coaching staff, Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen has worked with Toal too. “Tomorrow’s match will have two coaches who have been helped by Toal,” said Sen. “A number of players for Minerva were with me as under-16s and I know them but haven’t followed their progress over the past eight-nine years,” he said.