Sahal Abdul Samad’s journey from a newbie to a star has been inspiring and significant.
Starting out as a reserve squad player for Kerala Blasters FC, the United Arab Emirates-born midfielder put in eye-catching performances before being rewarded with a promotion to the first team. Cameo appearances for the club during 2017-18 season prompted the then head coach David James to give him a starting place for the 2018-19 Indian Super League season and he has not looked back since.
The 22-year-old only missed one game in a disappointing 2018-19 season for Kerala Blasters, but Sahal's emergence as Kerala’s mainstay in midfield made him the talk of the town. Now, with fame surrounding him everywhere, he is trying to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
"I am just trying to enjoy each game that I play. Every footballer has to go through this kind of pressure. But I am just making sure that it is not affecting my game," Sahal said.
Sahal's style and technique on the ball caught the eye of national team coach Igor Stimac and soon he was part of the India squad. He featured for India in the King's Cup in Thailand and played a crucial role in midfield as the Blue Tigers held Asian Cup champion Qatar to a goalless draw last month.
"It has been nothing short of amazing (to play for India). It is a dream for any youngster to represent the nation. It was no different with me and that dream has come true," he said.
As he prepares for the sixth season of the ISL, which kicks off with Kerala Blasters playing against ATK in Kochi on October 20, Sahal knows that he is going into the season as a valuable member of Eelco Schattorie's squad. While the midfielder isn't succumbing to the extra pressure, he does feel the need to aim for the trophy that eluded Kerala Blasters twice in the first five years of the competition.
"Kerala Blasters FC is my second home. Everything that I am now, I owe it to Kerala Blasters and the coaching team. They have played a very important role in my development and integration into the first team.
"Each player is important in the squad as football is a team game. For me individually, it is nothing different. We all feel the same pressure playing for the badge. I am lucky to play for the millions of Kerala Blasters fans. It is great to feel valued. Every football club aims for the ultimate trophy. It is the same for us. We want to win the ISL."