Sahal's contract extension promises a special treat for Kerala fans

May 11, 2019, brought along joyous tidings for ardent Kerala Blasters FC fans as the club announced Sahal Abdul Samad's three-year contract extension amongst much fanfare. The Kerala faithful have had little to cheer about in the last couple of seasons with the team performing well below expectations, but the local youngster's rise to prominence has been the one silver lining for the team's passionate fanbase.

Having joined the Kochi-based side back in 2017, Sahal spent the first half of the season playing for the Kerala reserve team in the Hero I-League second division, where he impressed everyone and finished the tournament with seven goals to his name. The youngster's massive potential didn't go unnoticed for long and he soon earned a call up to the senior side. After spending a few matches on the bench, the Kannur-born midfielder was finally introduced to the biggest stage in Indian football on February 8, 2018, during Kerala's home match against ATK. He would later go on to play a cameo against Bengaluru in the side's final match of Hero ISL 2017-18.

Despite only playing a handful of minutes in his debut season, the buzz surrounding Sahal in Kerala was obvious and it was not just because he was local talent. Having watched the likes of IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, V P Sathyan and various other Indian football legends emerge from the state in the past, the fans in Kerala have enough experience to recognize a special talent when they see one and Sahal fitted the mould perfectly. So much so, that in spite of his tender age, Sahal's style was being constantly compared to one Mesut Ozil.

With the 2018-19 Hero ISL season on the horizon, the Yellow brigade was not only praying for a stellar showing from the team but also for more glimpses of their local hero. The Blasters team did fall well short of the expectations finishing at a disappointing ninth position with just 15 points on the board. However, the nightmarish season couldn't quite dent the Kerala fans' anticipation to see Sahal come to the fore and the young lad didn't disappoint.

The 22-year-old made 17 appearances in Hero ISL 2018-19 and grew with every minute he spent on the pitch, be it in the first half of the campaign under David James or in the second half under Nelo Vingada. He grabbed the nation's collective attention with his composure on the ball at the centre of the pitch and his decision-making seemed well beyond his age. Sahal’s ability to dictate play and spark creativity into a struggling side made him stand out in a relatively uninspiring Kerala outfit. In essence, Sahal has already established himself as a complete midfielder, blessed with pace, dribbling ability and exquisite ball control. The youngster can also pick out a pass, making him the perfect player to link up play. Sahal finished the season with some impressive numbers and a memorable debut goal against arch-rivals Chennaiyin FC, cementing his place as a fan-favourite.

His performances earned him the ISL Emerging Player of the Season Award and eventually, a spot in the India U-23 team. On the back of such a brilliant campaign, it's needless to say that the youngster would have been a coveted star for any of the Hero ISL teams and Kerala's success in retaining him for the foreseeable future can be considered as quite a coup.

If Sahal continues progressing in the same trajectory, it will be only a matter of time before he establishes himself as one of the most sought-after players in the country and with the extension now in place, Kerala fans will have a ringside view to witness their local boy scale new heights. There's definitely something special brewing in Kerala.

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