On the field, he's a busy player and an all-action midfielder. Though the coronavirus pandemic has forced footballer Sahal Abdul Samad to stay indoors, he’s quite enterprising in finding the space during the lockdown ‘to stay healthy and busy’.
One of the standout performers for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League (ISL) last season, the 23-year-old is looking at the positives of the forced break due to the coronavirus outbreak.
From doing workouts and training hard within confined spaces, to playing football video games like FIFA 19 and PES with his younger brother Salman, and watching TV series streaming on Netflix - Sahal is doing everything to keep himself occupied. Over the last few weeks, he has also been volunteering at the COVID-19 helpline centre set up by the Kannur district administration.
ISL’s ‘emerging player’ for the 2018-19 season, Sahal took time off to speak to Malayala Manorama and share his future plans and the lessons he learnt from Dutch manager Eelco Schattorie, who parted ways with Blasters recently.
Excerpts from the interview:
There are rumours that you are considering a move to ATK next season...
I have a contract with Kerala Blasters till 2022. Moreover, I’m happy to play here.
Do you think you did not get enough opportunities in the playing XI last season?
It is true that I did not get much playing time. However, I’m happy that I was given the chance to play in almost all matches.
What was your experience playing under Eelco Schattorie?
Eelco is a good teacher. He was always willing to offer valuable tips. I’m grateful to him that I could learn a lot and improve my game. I believe I tried hard and did my best to live up to his expectations.
Kerala Blasters are undergoing a transformation with a new coach and supporting staff at the helm. Also, there are reports that a top management reshuffle is on the cards...
Our new gaffer Kibu Vicuna has good coaching experience under his belt. He joined Blasters after guiding Mohun Bagan to the I-League title, so there's no doubt over his credentials as a coach. I’m eagerly waiting to play under him. I have no knowledge about the management shake-up.
According to fans, your style of play is comparable to that of Brazilian Kaka and Germany’s Mesut Ozil. Who are your idols?
I’m extremely happy and proud to get compared to these great players. I can watch and learn from them, but it is all about how I execute it on the field. I love to play in the attacking midfield position. It is my comfort zone. The one player whom I idolise is Lionel Messi. Watching Argentina’s matches in the 2014 World Cup on YouTube is my favourite pastime. It still hurts to watch their loss to Germany in the final. Also, I never get tired of repeatedly playing short videos of Messi’s goals and skills.
You spent your childhood in the UAE. Are memories of that time still vivid?
I grew up in Al Ain. I started playing football when I was in third standard. I joined a football academy at the age of 13. Once I completed Plus Two, I could not decide whether to continue there or return to Kerala. It was my father and elder brother who advised to do my degree in Kerala. It proved to be a turning point in my life.
What was your dream-come-true moment?
The maiden call-up to the national camp and the first game in Indian colours. These two top my dream-come-true list.
Who is your closest companion in the national squad?
I’m very close to Anas Edathodika.