Sahal Abdul: Training and learning under Stimac has been wonderful

In terms of recent results, it hasn’t been the best of times to be an Indian football fan. Including the 2019 King’s Cup, Igor Stimac’s men have now lost three of their last four matches, conceding 12 goals and scoring just six times. In their last Hero Intercontinental Cup fixture against DPR Korea, Sunil Chhetri and Co. let in five goals for the first time in seven years.

However, like in any other tournament or match, there have also been positive takeaways for the former Croatia boss. Sunil Chhetri’s goalscoring run, the emergence of younger stars and the search for a renewed identity are the first pointers that come to mind, although none can quite match the level of satisfaction Stimac would have gained seeing midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad in action.

The ‘AIFF 2018-19 Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year’ has been extraordinary for the national team in the short while he’s been with them. The skill, the intent and the work rate demonstrated by the 22-year-old have been way ahead of his age, and he already looks like a player who would be integral to Stimac’s plans going forward.

Sahal’s attitude, meanwhile, is another one of his great strengths, as he rarely gets carried away with recognition. “It's difficult to explain in words – the feeling,” he said in an interview with the AIFF. “I am trying my best. I have worn the National jersey, but I know I have a lot to do. I have to keep working hard and get selected for the next set of games.”

The youngster’s name is already one of the first ones of the team sheet, thanks to both his tremendous ability on the ball and the Blue Tigers’ playing style. Hinting at some of the Croat’s ideas for him and the team, Sahal shared, “Training with the team and learning from the new coach has been wonderful. We are looking to keep and pass the ball while attacking. We aim to create multiple threats for our opponents.”

Sahal, who was born in Al-Ain, UAE, started playing football from an early age in Dubai, representing his high school team and joining an academy. However, the 22-year-old cites his move to India as the turning point of his football career. “I first played football for my school team in the 8th standard. Then I started playing 7s in Dubai and joined an Academy as well. However, the turning point came when I shifted to India.”

Further recalling his experiences at the next stage of his career and thanking his coaches for their part in it, Sahal explained, "Playing through the college system was a great experience. I never knew a player could come through the university-level ranks and play for India so quickly. I owe a lot to my coach who believed in me and gave me a chance. I had to re-do my first year of college again but in the end, it was certainly worth it."

The level of quality and know-how in the Blues Tigers camp is massive for a youngster like Sahal. Chhetri especially is a hero for so many of the Indian stars, who can learn a lot from the legend’s approach to the sport. "There's so much one can learn from the senior players! They have a wealth of experience and teach us a lot on and off the pitch. Small tips such as taking care of our diet, dealing with pressure, playing our natural game, go a long way in helping newcomers like us,” claimed Sahal on the matter.

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