What Kerala Blasters' forward Raphael Messi Bouli isn't looking forward to anymore is the label of 'Cameroonian Messi'. He has heard it throughout his career and while for the rest of the world, it is about a world-famous namesake, for the 27-year-old, it is just his family name.
"For other people, when they hear 'Messi', it is about the best player in the world. For me, it is my family name. In Cameroon, many people have this name, you will see many Messis there. For me it is normal. For others, it is not normal. They always expect more, hearing the name 'Messi'," Bouli told Goal.
When the Indian Super League (ISL) club announced his arrival, there was a hype created due to his middle name. But keeping that aside, Bouli is a talented goalscorer and has found success not just in his native country but also in China and Iran.
He featured for APEJES de Mfou in his homeland, having earlier spent time with AS FAP and Canon Yaounde. His form for APEJES in the 2017 season, during which he scored 14 goals, prompted interest from China. He was also called up to the Cameroon national team squad for the 2018 World Cup qualification.
"To be a footballer was my dream. That is why I started playing at a young age. I am blessed, I always thank god because, without God, I wouldn't be where I am now. I started playing in Cameroon, I played for many teams there. When I was there, I also got a call for the national team. I was in the team for the World Cup qualification. I played for the age category teams as well. Then I went to China, Iran and now India."
Bouli hopes to continue his journey through unexplored territories. As for his move to India, he knew what ISL had in store for him.
"The feeling when I signed my first professional contract was wow, it was great. I am grateful, God gave me this opportunity. It was a beginning, it is not the end. Maybe after India, I will go somewhere.
"I got a call from my agent to speak about India and a chance at Kerala Blasters. When ISL was launched, I was in Cameroon and I knew there were a lot of big players here like Forlan, Capdevila, David James, Del Piero etc. For me, it was like okay, no problem.
"When I received the call, I searched for KBFC on social media. I watched the games, the fans. I was very impressed and was like, 'Let's go!'."
Like every player signed by Kerala Blasters, Raphael Bouli too had his inbox flooded by messages from supporters.
"I receive a lot of message on my social media accounts. I want to apologize to the fans if I don't respond to their messages, it is because I receive a lot of messages. I am with them, to enjoy the football inside the stadium and get a good feeling."
Bouli, who refuses to choose the better footballer between Messi and Ronaldo, feels playing an attacking brand of football is not an easy approach in football. It's what Kerala Blasters head coach Eelco Schattorie aims to achieve with the Kochi-based club.
"I think it is difficult (to play attacking football) but that is the coach's point of view. Now we're in the preseason. We are focused on our work to be ready for the season."
After a preseason in UAE which was cancelled after the first friendly - a goalless draw against Dibba Al Fujairah - the team is back in Kochi to continue training ahead of the new season that kicks off on October 20 in Kochi against ATK.