Madih Talal, by his own admission, is a die-hard fan of Naruto. On Saturday, he would need to align his chakras and manifest all his skills on the pitch to defeat a formidable opponent in Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG) as the Frenchman kicks-off his debut season in the Indian Super League (ISL) with Punjab FC.
Playing an opening match against the defending champion can be daunting, and Talal would be forgiven for having the jitters as he waits in the wings to make his ISL debut.
The Mariners arguably have the strongest team on paper this year in the ISL and also, the most expensive. Coming to form, they are fresh from beating arch-rival East Bengal in the Durand Cup final and lifting the trophy for a record 17th time. Everything points towards a Mohun Bagan win.
But the midfielder, like his favourite anime character, shows no signs of fear – at least on the outside.
“I am more excited than nervous. It will be a good game between two very good teams and we will see how we need to win the game,” Talal tells Sportstar.
The match also offers the possibility of a midfield battle between Talal and fellow countrymen Hugo Boumous – a player Talal says he had heard about and occasionally followed before signing for Punjab. Only time will tell which Frenchman will stand taller after the match.
Talal has appearances in Ligue 1 with Amiens. But that is not what is most exciting for Punjab. It is his style of football which should adrenalise head coach Staikos Vergetis.
“I am more of an attacking midfielder. I like to be in the final third – close to the box – I love to shoot. I want to help the team build attacks, and I am a player who can make things happen for the attackers,” Talal says.
With a profile like this, Vergetis must have already thought of the delicious prospect of Talal and striker Luka Majcen striking up a partnership. With 16 goals and three assists in the I-League last season, Majcen was a vital cog in Punjab’s promotion to the ISL.
Add Talal’s vision to Majcen’s razor-sharp finishing, and Punjab FC can brew a concoction that leaves a bitter aftertaste in the opponent’s mouth.
In his last season, Talal helped his club AE Kifisia FC earn promotion to the Greek Super League. This season, he will play for Punjab FC – a newly promoted club.
As the trend with newly-promoted clubs go, every move will be scrutinised more than usual and at every step, the team will be judged as to whether it can survive in the higher rungs of Indian football, but for Talal, that should just motivate his team to perform better.
“I do not worry about these things. This [the attention] is a part of football, but you have to just keep playing, stay focused and give 100 per cent every game. You don’t need to put pressure on the players. You need to stay free.”
It is most likely that Talal will start for Punjab FC in its season opener against MBSG. While a win would be the primary objective, Talal hopes to get going right from the start and make a personal mark in the clash, as well.
A goal would be a perfect way to open a new chapter and help his team win, but Talal chuckles and says, “I prefer assists.”