The 23-year-old midfielder spoke about his journey in Indian football and ambitions going forward.

On Wednesday, it was Indian football team and Kerala Blasters’ star player Sahal Abdul Samad who met and greeted fans, as AIFF’s Nilanjan Datta hosted him on the official Instagram handle of the federation. During the hour-long interview, the 23-year-old spoke on a host of topics, including his experience with the Blue Tigers, the role of Kerala Blasters in nurturing his talent and much more.

“I was born and brought up in Al Ain, UAE. I started my footballing career in NIMS (New Indian Model School) Al Ain, my school. The first time I ever made it into a football team was in the third standard. Later on, I went on to play in various Sevens tournaments for my brother’s team, before joining the Al Ittihad Sports Academy in Dubai,” Sahal Abdul Samad began by speaking about how he started his journey as a footballer. “Eventually, there came a time when I had to pick between academics and football and I chose to come to Kerala to pursue my college degree. That turned out to be my best decision ever because that paved the way for everything I have now.”

“I wasn’t very serious about studies but I was doing well. But, I was also equally good at football. Even after coming here (Kerala), I had to take the decision to continue playing football. Thankfully, the people around me helped me pick the right choice.”

Sahal Abdul Samad speaks about the influence of Sunil Chhetri on the national team

The midfielder went on to speak about the likes of IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri and about how the trio serve as inspiration to every growing footballer, not just in his state but also in the rest of the country. “I feel unfortunate that I couldn’t play with legends like IM Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia. He (Vijayan) has still got magical feet. There will only be one IM Vijayan,” he stated. “People like him have big expectations from me and hence it is like a push from behind to work harder.”

“Sharing a dressing room with (Sunil) Chhetri was an equally great experience. I will never forget one particular meeting that myself, (Anirudh) Thapa, Amarjit (Singh Kiyam) and Kamaljit (Singh) had with him. That day, he gave us a lot of advice on how to be a good professional footballer by taking care of training, resting time and nutrition. He wants to be the best every day and also tells every other player to be the same,” he revealed, when asked about his experience with the current Indian skipper.

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Sahal also went on to say that his game for India against Qatar was the best game of his entire career till date. The Blue Tigers held the reigning Asian champions to a goalless draw, despite the absence of Sunil Chhetri and the youngster revealed that head coach Igor Stimac was full of praise for him after the full-time whistle.

“I did not have a good first half. During half-time, I already started hearing from others that I hadn’t been performing up to expectations. But, Stimac called me aside and asked me to forget everything and just play and that helped me a great deal in the second half,” he revealed. “Stimac also congratulated me on a good performance after the match ended.”

The name Kerala Blasters is synonymous with Sahal’s footballing journey till date. The player himself acknowledged it during the interview, as he said, “Kerala Blasters made me who I am today. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. In the years to come, I’m sure they will reach a higher level and win trophies. Obviously, I would love to be a part of their journey. I still remember my first appearance for them – it was so hard to even hear players talking to each other because of the sound of the home crowd,” concluded Sahal Abdul Samad.

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