Sahal Abdul Samad: The Indian fan favourite

Sahal Abdul Samad: Know ISL record of Kerala Blasters star

Sahal Abdul Samad is an Indian football player who plays midfield for the Indian Super League club Kerala Blasters. Within a short time, the 24-year-old footballer has become a favourite amongst Kerala Blasters fans with his silky footwork and mazy runs from the midfield.

Early Life

Born on April 1, 2997, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) city Al Ain, Sahal Abdul Samad had completed his studies in the middle-east at the New Indian Model School before returning to his home in Kannur, Kerala, after 14 years. Sahal was always passionate about football and started playing at eight before he began professional training at the Al Ethihad Sports Academy in 2010.

The talent was evident, and by the time he finished his degree in India, his exploits with the university team had already caught the attention of many. Soon, a football coach of SN College, Kannur, spotted Sahal Abdul Samad and persuaded him to change colleges to get more university-level football exposure.

Sahal’s rise was meteoric as he soon joined the district Under-21 side and was spotted by the Kerala state team to represent them in the 2017 Santosh Trophy. 

Sahal Abdul Samad: ISL journey

Sahal Abdul Samad’s performance at the state level caught notice of the Kerala Blasters scouts, and the youngster was instantly handed his first professional contract to play for the side’s in the 2017-18 season of the I-League second division. It was a season to remember for life as Sahal scored seven goals in 10 appearances to become the top scorer in the league and was also made the captain in the process.

With the senior Kerala Blasters side struggling for form in ISL, coach René Meulensteen had to promote a few reserve players to the main squad, and Sahal Abdul Samad was one of them. However, to his misfortune, Meulensteen was sacked soon after, with David James taking over the reins of the Tuskers. Under the English goalkeeper as the KBFC coach, Sahal struggled for game time in the senior team, and his debut ISL campaign was limited to just two matches and 13 minutes.

However, better days were coming for the Kerala kid despite the team’s underwhelming performances in the Indian Super League. The 2018-19 season saw Sahal becoming a mainstay in the first team, with his first ISL goal against Blasters’ rivals Chennaiyin FC on February 15, 2019. Though not a finished product, Sahal’s performances improved as the season progressed, with the player winning the 2019 ISL Emerging Player of the Season as well as the 2019 AIFF Emerging Player of the Year. Though Kerala Blasters finished the season in ninth place, Sahal was awarded a contract extension until 2022.

The ISL 2019-20 season didn’t start as planned for Sahal Abdul Samad, despite the management spending heavily on reinforcements. Eelco Schattorie was appointed as the manager after his playoff finish with NorthEast United FC in the previous season, but before he could turn a corner, the injury crisis in the squad forced Sahal to play out of his position. His inexperience proved to be costly, and he managed to provide just assists in the entire season.

The following season didn’t see any dramatic change for Kerala and Sahal, despite having new coach Kibu Vicuna at the helm. Sahal could manage just three assists in 14 games, and Kerala finished 10th in the ISL points table. The management, however, showed faith in the talented midfielder, and Sahal signed a contract extension until 2025 before he played in the 2021 Durand Cup to prepare for the 2021-22 ISL season.      

Sahal Abdul Samad: ISL Stats

ISL 2017-18200
ISL 2018-191711
ISL 2019-201802
ISL 2020-211403

It is evident that Sahal Abdul Samad has been chiefly a promising talent so far in the Indian Super League, more than anything else, but the player has also been left wanting for the right coach who could recognize his potential and shape him into the genuine midfielder that he is.

The numerous experimentations with his playing positions have also been a reason for the inconsistency in his performances. So far, Sahal Abdul Samad has played in eight positions for his teams – left midfield, central midfield, right midfield, attacking midfield, left-winger, defensive midfield, right-winger and second striker.

He has been most successful as a left positioning midfielder, playing where he has scored thrice and assisted once. However, his contribution is most felt in the build-up, not in goal contributions.

Kerala Blasters’ current coach Ivan Vukomanovic described Sahal Abdul Samad as “… one of the domestic Indian players who have great potential to improve even more. And since we started, I think that he’s doing a great job, he is doing an excellent job because he’s implementing the things that we want to add into his game.”

“I’m happy for him. I’m happy for all the fans who were supporting him. And I’m happy for all the fans now who are still supporting him because he’s a great guy, a great personality and a great player. And I think that he is the future of Kerala Blasters FC and Indian football,” he added.   

Sahal Abdul Samad with the national team

Sahal’s first stint with the national team was when India hosted Curacao and Thailand during the 2019 King’s Cup. The player has since been a regular in India national football team coach Igor Stimac‘s side in the 2019 Intercontinental Cup and India’s World Cup Qualifiers from Asia.

Sahal also took part with the India U23 football team in the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship Qualifiers, where he got his maiden international goal during the final as India beat Nepal to lift the cup. At only 24, Sahal has now had enough exposure at the top level to bring his A-game and is widely expected to become one of India’s most essential players in the foreseeable future.