If Arab News gave an award for the player of each round of Saudi Pro League (SPL) games, there would be little debate as to the winner of the opening weekend.
Anderson Talisca was immense in his debut for Al-Nassr, driving his new team to a 4-1 win over Damac. He won the penalty that produced the opening goal, scored the second and create the fourth.
“We started well, but the most important thing is that we won in the end and got the three points,” Talisca said after his debut.
“I hope that we will continue at this level and improve. I quickly adapted to the team, and I have more to offer to Al-Nassr and the fans.”
One performance does not make a season, but the Brazilian looked very good indeed, and if he can come close to matching such standards in the months to come, then the outlook is a positive one for both club and league, as he was a signing that others can learn from.
First he was cheap, with Al-Nassr paying Guangzhou FC a reported fee of around €1 million ($1.2 million) — a fine capture of a storied player.
Now 27, the attacking midfielder moved from South America to Benfica at the age of 20. Successful in Portugal — scoring important goals in the league, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League — he then headed to Turkish giants Besiktas in 2016 for another fine spell that included a Champions League return to his former Lisbon club and a goal.
Two years later, the former Brazil under-23 international was heading to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande for a fee of around $23 million.
For Al-Nassr to get such a player on the cheap was a coup. Talisca is a serial winner. He has won league championships in Portugal, Turkey and China.
He slotted into Guangzhou’s team with ease, and helped the team to the 2019 Chinese Super League.
Just as in Lisbon, Istanbul and Guangzhou, the tall, rangy midfielder became a fan favorite, and it should not take long before he does the same in Riyadh.
Newton Mota was coordinator at Talisca’s first club Bahia, and he soon knew that the Salvador club would be unable to keep the player who was called up twice by Brazil in 2014 and 2018 without making a senior appearance.
“We received offers from Flamengo, Gremio and Sao Paulo for him,” Mota said in 2014 after the first summons when Talisca was just 20. “During a tour in Europe, Valencia also asked to take him on loan. So he has always been a player who catches the eye, by the way he strikes the ball and his personality.”
Mota said despite comparisons in style to Yaya Toure, Talisca is more similar to a Brazilian legend.
“His technique is very accurate, but I liken him more to Rivaldo, who was also left-footed, with a long stride and capable of scoring goals from distance,” Mota added.
“Of course Rivaldo is a world champion, so it is very early to make comparisons, but if I see a resemblance between Talisca and anyone else, it is with him.”
That was in evidence in Friday’s victory. Talisca’s long strides make him look a little ungainly, but he covers ground quickly and gets into dangerous positions before defenders are aware that such danger exists.
The powerful 27-year-old drives forward time and time again, and with an eye for goal and a pass, he is a formidable opponent — simply put, he makes things happen. He is also hungry for more.
He certainly looked to have adapted quickly at Al-Nassr, linking up cleverly with former Besiktas teammate Vincent Aboubakar. “We have played together before, know each other well and are friends,” Talisca said.
His transfer offers another lesson: It is always best to get new signings done as early as possible.
Former Brazil boss Mano Menezes arrived in April to take charge of the nine-time champions, and a month later Talisca signed. It was all done well in advance of the start of the season.
This is especially significant when looking at the opening round of the SPL, when Al-Ahli were without some of their big signings such as Paulinho.
There had not been enough time to arrange visas and documentation, but Talisca — Paulinho’s compatriot and former Guangzhou teammate — looked like he had been at Al-Nassr for years.
He really could be one of the stars of the season. If he and Al-Nassr keep playing like they did in the first game, he could be celebrating a title in a fourth country, and the club could secure championship No. 10.
There is still a long way to go, however, especially as even smaller clubs in the country have strengthened in the transfer market this year, finding international bargains.
To name just three: Al-Raed has loaned Eduardo Henrique from Sporting Lisbon; Al-Fayha has recruited Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a Greek defender who has played for Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and SV Hamburg; and Al-Fateh signed Peru international Christian Cueva in January. Even title-winning clubs elsewhere in Asia struggle to attract such talent.
It is not just about the big names signing for the big clubs, but clubs looking to survive in the top flight first and foremost strengthening in an intelligent way.
For now though, Talisca deserves the headlines and the plaudits. The challenge is to maintain such standards in the weeks and months ahead.