For Kerala Blasters’ Sahal Abdul Samad, a lesson to be learned from ATK Mohun Bagan’s Manvir Singh

Sahal Abdul Samad is a player that attracts a lot of eyeballs in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). The 24-year-old is adored by the Kerala Blasters faithful but the attention and the affection for him is not limited to the boundaries of Kerala.

The reason behind it is as simple as it is complex. A look at Sahal’s numbers in the Hero ISL would not get you very excited. He has scored just one goal and registered only five assists in 51 matches. His conversion rate is 1% and has a goals-per-game ratio of 0.02. These numbers are far from extra-ordinary, but there is more to the young midfielder.

When Sahal gets on the ball, there is very little ordinary that happens. He glides on the pitch as if on roller-skates, he goes past opponents as if they aren’t there and he gets the fans off their seats like few others. He’s a player that you’d pay to watch.

Sahal though has often been criticised for not having more end product and not delivering the goods consistently, but time and again he has served a reminder of the level he can reach. In the SAFF Championship 2021, Sahal danced past a bunch of Nepal defenders in typical style, leaving them astounded on the floor as he scored a beautiful goal in the final as India won the title.

It was a goal that would have sparked hope among the Kerala Blasters fans that this Sahal would show up in the upcoming Hero ISL season more often than not.

His first test this season would probably be the toughest against last season’s runners-up ATK Mohun Bagan. Antonio Habas’ men are certain to offer very little time and space to work his magic but in one of their players, Sahal could find an example to follow, and a blueprint to copy.

Manvir Singh a year ago was a player in need of a lift. In three previous seasons before joining ATK Mohun Bagan, Singh had just three goals and an assist to his name. Like Sahal, he was tipped to achieve big things in Indian football, but had not quite matched the expectations.

At the end of the 2020-21 season, Singh scored six goals and provided three assists. He was second only to Sunil Chhetri and Bipin Singh for most goal contributions by an Indian player in the Hero ISL.

Apart from goals and assists, Singh who played all 23 matches of ATK Mohun Bagan’s season, also created more chances for his teammates. He churned out 1.21 chances per 90 minutes compared to 0.77 in 2019-20.

Season Goals Assists Goal
2019-20 2 0 11 % 2.45 0.77
2020-21 6 3 17 % 2.18 1.21

Singh has also been a regular with the Indian national team and had an excellent SAFF Championship campaign.

For Sahal to follow on the same path, Kerala Blasters’ new signings that include many new attacking players could help. It would not only force opponents to focus attention elsewhere but also ensure that the chances that the young Indian has been creating are converted.

In the 2020-21 season, only FC Goa’s Brandon Fernandes created more chances among Indian players than the Kerala Blasters attacking midfielder. Sahal was the third-highest dribbler among Indian players and was also third in the list for most shot producers among Indian players in the Hero ISL last season.

Rank Player Total Chances
1 Brandon Fernandes 33
2 Sahal Abdul Samad 28
3 Halicharan Narzary 26
4 Lallianzuala Chhangte 25
5 Alexander Romario Jesuraj 23

For Sahal, it’s about converting all this promise and numbers to goals and assists and his new coach Vukomanovic seems convinced that he’ll deliver the goods this season.

“Sahal is one of the players who has the potential to become a very important player of Kerala Blasters and of the national team as well. So we are happy with his improvement, we are happy with his motivation to work hard in every game,” the KBFC coach said ahead of the game.

At 24, Sahal’s best days are certainly ahead of him but for starters, he could do well to ape Manvir Singh, his opponent in the first game, and match his rise in the Hero ISL.

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