BY NISANTH V EASWAR Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter
Mark Sifneos made his first start under Rene Meulensteen for Kerala Blasters against Mumbai City last Sunday and became the first player to register his name on the scoresheet for the Yellow Army this season.
The young Dutch striker, who recently turned 21, is ecstatic with the way things have clicked into gear since his low-profile move to the Indian Super League (ISL) side in the summer.
"I am very happy because I scored a goal. I helped the team to get a point at least. The goal was special for me because it is for the first time in my life that I scored a goal in front of so many people. It was my first goal for the club and the club's first goal in the league. My parents came to watch the game. So it was special for me."
It was special for the fans too since it was the club's first goal of the season.
"The atmosphere here is very different. In my first club for a league match, there would be maybe 4000 people. Now it is 40000 or more! You cannot compare one with another but for me, it is very nice. It is fantastic to play in this atmosphere and we want to give them what they deserve."
Sifneos appeared as a second-half substitute in the first two games as the team chased a goal. After 180 minutes of goalless football, Rene Meulensteen had to change things around in the attacking third and the young Dutchman was the player he turned to.
"He [Meulensteen] just told me to enjoy, play like I did in the pre-season and to not think too much. And I think it worked okay! I just played my game, I did not think about the pressure."
The former RKC Walwijk forward, however, wants to be much more than a player who scores goals and believes he is a complete striker capable of doing a bit of everything - score, create and even use his energy to force errors from opposing defenders.
"What kind of a striker am I? I am not really a single kind of striker - only goalscorer, only creator, only a good header. I think I'm a bit of everything. I try to do my role - to press and to give my energy."
The fans might have had to wait for their team to get off the mark in front of goal but when they finally did score, it was pleasing to the eye.
"The first thing I remember is the clearance and then a good header from Arata (Izumi) to Berba. A one-touch pass, a one-two with Jacki - fantastic football. Rino made a great cross and then I made a good finish. It was a good attack," recollected Sifneos, who is on a steep learning curve with the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Wes Brown in the squad.
"I watch a lot of games from the Premier League. They play at the highest level. I see what they do, I try to learn from them, their movements. Wes Brown is a defender, so you think I'd learn more from Berbatov. I do learn from Berbatov but when I play with Wes, he tells me what a central defender hates."
Mark Sifneos is tall and physically strong. Not everyone can boast such traits at his age and the forward makes it a point to better his skills by watching how world-class forwards go about their game.
"My favourite player of all time is the Brazilian Ronaldo but I am not the same type of striker. He is smaller and I am taller. He is faster and I am stronger. I watch a lot of different players like Lewandowski, Ibrahimovic. Benzema and Cavani. I watch their clips and try to learn from them also."
One thing that bugs every young footballer is decision-making. But as Sifneos rightly puts it, to err is only human and for the more experienced players around him, to forgive is divine.
"Maybe for Berbatov, it is frustrating [when I make the wrong decisions on the pitch]. I don't feel pressure though, to be honest, We are humans, we all make mistakes. If I say something to him or if he says something to me, we both know that it's for the team."
"If I make a wrong decision and he tells me that, I accept it. If he a makes a mistake and I tell him and that is also fine. It is not pressure because we all want the best for the team."
Mark Sifneos is a confident young man who knows his strengths and weaknesses and believes that the game against FC Goa is winnable.
"It will be a difficult match. First away game away from our fantastic fans. It will be different. We have shown that with every game we get better. With a bit of luck, we could have scored a second goal. We can beat them. Everyone can win and lose against everyone."
Those aren't the kind of words you would expect from a 21-year-old trying to make his mark in the world of football but Sifneos exudes confidence. After all, he had the guts to switch to Indian Super League, a competitive ground that has mostly seen only experienced foreign players.
"I played in Netherlands for Walwijk. I had three appearances for the first team. They were using me for friendly matches and I played for the second team. I wasn't getting chances that I hoped so I wanted to go somewhere else. I talked to my agent and he came to me with India. "
"I was like, 'What, India?', and he told me about the coach and the club. I talked to the coach and I think for me it was a very good step to prove myself. Everything here is about football for me. I'm 21 and so the most important thing for me is to play and get more experience. And playing with these players and this trainer is the best for me."
On a lighter note, everybody needs to take time off from work to have fun and joke around - even Kerala Blasters players! Mark Sifneos can be seen hanging around with Courage Pekuson and Nemanja Lakic-Pesic most of the time.
"I'm good with everybody. There is a very good chemistry with the whole squad. They are enjoying. Of course, you spend time with some more than the others. For me, I spend more time with Nemanja and Courage Pekuson but I am good with everybody," declared Sifneos, who is set to be part of the squad that will travel to Goa on Thursday.