Europeans have started watching more Asian football now, asserts Madih Talal

Feb 22, 2024 | Interview

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Punjab FC’s midfield maestro Madih Talal revealed what compelled his arrival to India.

Punjab FC made history when they became the first club to be promoted to the ISL after winning the I-League last season. Much was expected from the new entrants and there was also an unknown factor if the Punjab side would be able to emulate the success of I-League in the rigors of Indian Super League.

Fast forward today, Punjab FC have struggled this season with just three wins in 15 games as head coach Staikos Vergetis still continues to search for the right team combination in their debut campaign. However, one player who has consistently performed well for the team is Madih Talal, a 26-year-old attacking midfielder from France. Despite the team’s challenges, Talal has stood out with his performances and versatility, playing in various positions for Punjab FC.

In an exclusive conversation with Khel Now, Madih Talal discussed various topics related to his career and experiences with the team.

On his move to Punjab FC

Madih Talal, who was playing for Greek second division side Kifisia FC prior to joining Punjab FC, credited the Technical Director and head coach for facilitating his move to India. He stated, “ (The move came) From the Technical Director and the Coach. Because they are Greek (and) last year I was in Greece and I played there. It was a new challenge (in) another country and I thought it would be a good experience (opportunity) for me that’s why I came to India.”

Moving to India at an early age and influence of Stiven Mendoza

Talal is 26 at the moment, which is an unusual age for a foreigner to ply their trade in the ISL as the trend in India is to sign players aged more than 30. When questioned what motivated his decision to play in India, he answered, “It was about the league. New league, like I told you before – a new challenge. I was open to seeing a new culture and all of this. I already spoke with some people about India.”

He cited an example of star striker Stiven Mendoza, who was his teammate at French club Amiens in the 2017-18 season. “I had a chat with Mendoza and I remember asking him how Indian football was and he told me only good things about the country, the football and the fans. So, when I came here, I was not surprised because I already knew all of this. It was good for me to come early and build something.”

A money oriented move to ISL or a gateway for making a career in Asia?

This ISL season has seen quite a number of young players who had prior experiences of playing in lower divisions of Europe plying their trade in the Indian first division. Critics argue that the reason for players moving to India has a bigger financial motive than a footballing one. However, Madih Talal squashed the rumours and commented, “No, it is a gate for everyone. All my friends, they told me how I, if it’s possible to come to India . So I think it’s more like a gate now with India and another Asian country also. It’s a really good gate because the football is starting to grow up fast and the level is very good. Now in Europe, people have started to watch more Asian football and it’s a very good gate for everyone.”

Moreover, the midfielder believes that he can contribute more to the league and he is not here for one season. “I have heard good things about India and Indian football and I am willing to contribute more to the country’s sport for many years,” he asserted.

On the current season with Punjab FC

Punjab FC, as stated above, have not had the best of seasons so far and Talal has been forced to play in multiple positions in the coach’s bid to find a proper team combination. The play-maker stated, “I don’t have specific roles. For example, I like to play in every attacking position. My first position is that of a No.10. But I can play all the other positions. And yes, we move, we change the formation a lot, and we adapt with the players and the opponent. It’s the job of the coach, and we follow the instruction.”

Equation with Juan Mera

Juan Mera is another player with a similar playing style to Madih Talal in the Punjab FC squad, and with the ISL’s foreign player rules allowing only four players on the field at a time, competition for spots is fierce.

However, the 26-year-old sees this as a positive. He mentioned, “Well, personally, I don’t have a problem. Mera is a really good friend, first of all, and he’s a really good player also. And after the choice of the coach, I’m trying my best and he’s trying his best. We are trying to push each other to be better every day. Everything will be well. He will come back in the team now and will help us for sure because he has a lot of quality and everyone in this team believes in him.”

Battle for top-six

Punjab FC are currently in the 11th position with just 14 points in 15 games this season. However, the Shers are just six points off the playoffs position and with seven more games to play, the battle for a potential sixth spot is wide open. Madih Talal believes that his side will now push for the playoffs spot but will approach one game at a time.

“Now every team is alive to be in the top-six but we take game per game and we hope we get three points in every game. We will see at the end if we are in the playoffs or not but nobody is pushing us (not) to be in the top-six,” he concluded.

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