Manorama Sports Star 2022: Sahal dribbles his way to the next level

Sahal Abdul Samad
Sahal Abdul Samad. File photo

Kerala Blasters were taking on Jamshedpur FC in the first leg of the semifinals in the 2021-22 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) in Goa. Jamshedpur were in red-hot form, clinching the ISL League Winners Shield on the back of a six-match winning streak. On the other side, Blasters were not having a great time on the field. Their strikers were not getting the ball while midfielders were struggling to find space in the opponent's half.

As their dispirited fans were waiting for the inevitable, Blasters scored a stunning goal against the run of play. It was Kerala's own Sahal Abdul Samad, one of the six shortlisted nominees for the Manorama Sports Star Award 2022, who produced a moment of magic to stun Jamshedpur defence just before the half-time whistle.

Spaniard Alvaro Vazquez sent a long ball from the centre of the pitch into the Jamshedpur half, and Sahal took it down beautifully before dribbling past a defender and chipping it past the keeper to give Blasters the lead. It was a very cool finish under extreme pressure from the midfielder-turned-winger. It was also an exhibition of his predatory instincts in front of the goal. In the entire first-half, Sahal received the ball while being in an advantageous position only twice, and he was able to convert one of them and propel his team into the final.

That goal testified to the 25-year-old's quality. In 2022, Sahal slowly built himself into one of the most influential midfielders in the country. He had a great year in Blasters' yellow jersey and was equally impactful whenever he donned the blue jersey of the national team.

The 2021-22 ISL season saw Sahal play a pivotal role as Blasters entered the final for the first time since 2016. In 21 matches, he scored as many as six goals and had one assist.

He could also cement his place in the Indian senior football team after scoring a late winner to help India edge out Afghanistan in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in June, 2022.

Sahal, who won the 'ISL Emerging Player of the Season' award in 2018-19 at the age of 21, was lauded for his passing, dribbling and a quick change of pace.

"No longer can Sahal be called a player for the future. He has matured a lot and it is good to see him taking responsibility. He is one of the best in the business in India. He has grown into a player who can have an enormous influence on the outcome of a game. He possesses the quality to be on the field for the full 90 minutes. He is a versatile player who can don multiple roles; as a winger, striker and a No. 10. He is one of those players who can create moments out of nothing," vouches Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic on Sahal's quality.  

Son of P P Abdul Samad and Suhara Samad of Kavvayi near Payyanur in Kannur district, Sahal grew up in Al Ain in the UAE and started playing football when he was in third standard. He did schooling in the UAE and learned the nuances of the game at the Al Ethihad Sports Academy in Abu Dhabi and G7 Al Ain. 

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