Former Irish League striker enjoying the 'Wacky Races' of life as manager in India

Paul Munster
Munster has won two trophies since arriving in India

Paul Munster has a lot on his plate as head coach and technical director of Minerva Punjab FC in India - but that wasn't quite the case when he first arrived.

The 36-year-old from Belfast does not like spicy food and quickly lost weight after making the move to take over the Indian top-flight club last summer.

The former Linfield striker was well used to travelling by then - his career as a player and manager had taken him to Canada, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany as well as his home city - but his diet was one of a number of things he had to quickly get used to in the north-west city of Chandigarh.

"The roads are absolutely crazy here - it's like the Wacky Races," Munster explained.

"Even if the lights are red you still have to be careful because everyone is rushing all the time, it's non-stop. There's no real structure to the city like there would be in Europe and people hardly ever seem to sleep.

"The first few weeks were really difficult for me, with food in particular a big problem as I don't like spicy food. Thankfully, though, there is someone at the club who cooks meals for me with ingredients that I like.

"The language issue is fine. I do know a few Indian phrases which I use for extra motivation, but luckily a lot of my players speak English."

India - the why and how

Munster is responsible for the development of Minerva's youth team players as well as the first team
Munster is responsible for the development of Minerva's youth players as well as the first team

At 29, after a year playing at German club Anker Wismar, Munster returned to Sweden to take up his first official managerial role at then fourth-tier club Assyriska BK. He soon moved up a division to Örebro Syrianska IF before taking over the under-19s at top-flight side Örebro SK.

The route from Sweden to India is not a well-travelled one in football terms, but it came about in quite a straightforward fashion.

"A friend recommended me to Minerva and they messaged me," Munster continued. "I did a 15-minute interview on Skype and they offered me the job.

"As head coach and technical director, I look after the restructuring of the entire club from the first team down to the youth teams, which is a pretty all-consuming role as a lot of players left last summer after winning the league.

"I'm at the club from 7.00am and don't get home until 10.00pm, and we have to fly to every away match.

"I don't mind as I love what I do and the team is performing well. We've qualified for the Asian version of the Champions League, which we're really looking forward to playing in February."

It seems the hard work is paying off, with Minerva having won two trophies in his first six months, one of which - the Punjab State Super League - had never been won by the club before.

Linfield spell a 'stepping stone'

Munster enjoyed success during his three seasons at Windsor Park
Munster enjoyed his spell with home-city club Linfield in the Irish Premiership

Football fans in Northern Ireland will best remember Munster for his spell as a striker for Linfield from 2008-11. He was the club's top scorer in the second of his three seasons at Windsor Park.

It was also the most successful period of his career, with the Blues winning two league and cup doubles.

"I have fond memories of my time in the Irish League, where I played with a lot good players and won big trophies," he recalled.

"It was nice to go home and show my friends and family what I could do, but to be honest I had always intended it to be a stepping stone to a club in England."

'Get your passport, you're going to Prague'

For most 19-year-olds from Belfast, a trip to the Czech Republic capital may seem like a long way to go in search of a professional football career.

That wasn't the case for Munster, however, as he had already been playing in Canada for half a season when the call came to go to SK Slavia Prague for a trial.

That was 2004 and was the beginning of a football odyssey, with Munster continually prepared to push the envelope in search of success.

"I had just finished school and was playing for Cliftonville reserves when I went on an eight-week programme to coach in Canada, which led to me getting a full-time job coaching six to 19-year-olds," Munster explains.

"While out there I began playing for London City and soon attracted the attention of a few scouts. A Slavia Prague scout approached me after a game and told me to get my passport as he was taking me for a three-week trial."

Munster in action for Linfield against Cliftonville, where he started his playing career
Munster in action for Linfield against Cliftonville, where he started his playing career

'I've always been my own man - my family understand'

Living in India means Munster does not get to see his family and has to make do with phone and Skype calls. Having been on his travels for the best part of 18 years, however, it's a sacrifice he believes is worth making for his career.

"I never saw the travelling as a risk - it was an opportunity," he explained.

"I've always been my own man, nobody could talk me out of anything. Home is home and will always be there, but I wanted full-time football and back then had to leave Northern Ireland to get it.

"If travelling is what has to be done for work then that's what has to be done."

He was joined in India a few months ago by his Swedish girlfriend, Desiree. They live in a high-rise apartment near the Minerva stadium, where Munster says "the living is good", even if his work schedule doesn't allow for much more than "a TV movie before going to bed".

Munster lives in India with Swedish girlfriend, Desiree
Munster lives in India with Swedish girlfriend, Desiree

Next stop, England?

While Munster's playing career never quite reached the heights he had hoped it would, getting a club job in England as a manager remains his firm aim.

"I'm young for a manager but people don't realise I've been doing this now for over six years," the 36-year-old added.

"I've known since I was 19 that management was what I wanted to do and was preparing for it throughout my playing career, always borrowing the notes of session plans from coaches to study them.

"I'm managing up to six different nationalities in my squad, including South America and Africa, and we've enjoyed success by winning the Punjab State Super League for the first time in the club's history.

"The standard of football here is decent, similar maybe to League One in Scotland, but I'm open to all options. The pinnacle for me would be the Premier League in England. I know I've started at a low level and I've done OK, but I want more - much more."

Paul Munster - has passport, will travel.

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