Sahal recalls journey from university football to senior national team

Shifting to India after having completed his schooling in Al Ain, Sahal Abdul Samad went from playing university football to sealing his berth in the Indian senior national team.

Sahal Abdul Samad was signed by Kerala Blasters in the 2017-18 season in the Indian Super League (ISL).   -  AIFF Media


Prior to India's departure for the 2019 King's Cup, talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri had quipped: "Sahal (Abdul Samad) is an extremely gifted talent. He is someone who really excites me. I don’t know if people have watched a lot of Sahal, but if that guy is fit, he’s got proper talent."

Since then, Sahal has gone on to make his International debut, and though Igor Stimac’s boys have lost three of the last four, the midfielder has been one of India's standout performers in the midfield.

Sahal was also voted the AIFF Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year 2018-19 by the coaches of I-League and ISL clubs. "It's difficult to explain in words – the feeling," the 22-year-old said. “I am trying my best. I have worn the national jersey but I know I have a lot to do. I have to keep working hard, and get selected for the next set of games.”

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A ball-playing midfielder, Sahal's dribbling and passing abilities catch the eye, as he provides his coaches a number of options, thanks to his versatility.

"Training with the team and learning from the new coach has been wonderful. We are looking to keep and pass the ball while attacking. We aim to create multiple threats for our opponents,” he added.

Born in Al-Ain, UAE, Sahal completed his schooling from Al Ain before coming to India for his college degree – a decision which was aided by elder brother Fazil, which allowed him to pursue his footballing dream.

“I first played football for my school team in the 8th standard. Then I started playing 7s in Dubai, and joined an academy as well. However, the turning point came when I shifted to India," Sahal recalls.

A few months after starting his degree, his talent was spotted by coach Siddique of SN College in Kannur who convinced him to switch colleges. From there, Sahal never looked back.

After excelling at University-level tournaments, he soon found a place in the district U-21 side, and then the Kerala team for the Santosh Trophy, while also playing in the local 7s scene.

For the 2017-18 season, he was signed by ISL side Kerala Blasters for the reserve team, and was later promoted to the senior side.

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"Playing through the college system was a great experience," Sahal explains. "I never knew a player could come through the university-level ranks, and play for India so quickly. I owe a lot to my coach who believed in me, and gave me a chance. I had to re-do my first year of college but in the end, it was certainly worth it," he smiles.

Sahal is one of the youngest members in this fresh-looking Indian line-up, which also features a number of seasoned campaigners from whom Sahal has "learnt a lot.”

"There's so much one can learn from the senior players. They have a wealth of experience and teach us a lot on and off the pitch. Small tips such as taking care of our diet, dealing with pressure, playing our natural game- go a long way in helping newcomers like us,” he expressed.

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