Kerala Blasters midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad joined the Kochi-based club at a time when supporters were crying out for more local talent to be included in the squad.
Though the team has a fair few youngsters from the North-East region, Kerala-born players have managed to carve out a name for themselves at Blasters. Prasanth Karuthadathkuni is getting first team minutes and 21-year-old Kannur-based lad Sahad is looking to follow in his footsteps through hard work.
Sahal Samad impressed for Kerala Blasters' reserve side last season in the second division of I-League. He managed to finish the tournament with seven goals to his name, most by a player from an Indian Super League (ISL) club. The midfielder, who already appeared twice for the senior side in ISL last season, is hopeful of more minutes with David James at the helm of affairs. It was the former Liverpool goalkeeper who gave Sahal his debut against ATK in a 2-2 stalemate back in February 2018.
"David James is a free coach. He is someone who tries to bring the young talent to the forefront at Kerala Blasters. If we do well in training, he will definitely give us a chance to play. He is also very friendly with the players. We have the freedom to approach him," Sahal told Goal .
A growing emphasis on Kerala-based talent is evident at Blasters. The U-18 team of Kerala Blasters, which features several Malayali players, made it to the final of U-18 Youth League last season. The squad for the La Liga World tournament involving Girona FC and Melbourne City comprised of 11 Kerala-born players. The route map for young talent is clear and concise.
"It won't be possible for anybody to directly get a first team slot. We have a reserve team that played the second division I-League and Kerala Premier League. A few players from the U-18 side played in the reserve team. And one of those players, Pragyan, is with the senior team camp now," said Sahal.
"I get along very well with Prasanth. He is not playing as a youth player anymore. He has become one of the main players already. I can learn a lot from him. There will be more Kerala-born players in the Indian national team soon. Prasanth has grown as a player, he is one of the players who could get a chance soon."
Having people whom you look up to around you is a big boon for any young players. In Sahal's case, Indian international Anas Edathodika takes the front row seat.
"The player I look up to the most is Anas Edathodika. I knew him even before he joined Blasters. He is friendly and I am really happy that he is with us. I call him Anas Ikka (brother) and he is my favourite Kerala Blasters player at the moment.
"I would like to play a lot this season, I am working hard for that," concluded the young midfielder who has big dreams to chase in a yellow jersey.