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Kerala Blasters missing a creative spark - but where is Sahal Abdul Samad?

10:54 PM EST 12/23/19
Sahal Abdul Samad
Sahal Abdul Samad has found first team starts hard to come by and the team's form, without him, hasn't improved...

Before and after most of Kerala Blasters' matches this season, head coach Eelco Schattorie has been asked about midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad. Questions have ranged from whether Sahal deserves to play more to if Sahal is actually a tad overrated at present. 

The Dutch coach has been adamant about his reasoning that the 22-year-old Keralite needs to improve several aspects of his game, hinting that he can be a one-trick pony at times on the field with his passion for dribbling opponents into oblivion. But the fact of the matter is, despite his drawbacks, Sahal is still one of the most creative players at the club and the team is without a win in eight games. The midfielder, who started 16 out of 18 matches under David James last season, has only featured four times in Schattorie's starting lineup after nine rounds of the ongoing Indian Super League (ISL). 

A curious season for Sahal

Despite the team's results, Sahal has shown glimpses of his potential whenever he has come on as a substitute (two assists, most by a Blasters player this season, in 394 minutes) and at times, like the entirety of last season, he has looked the only bright spark in the attacking third.

However, the youngster has also made mistakes without the ball, validating his coach's opinion that he needs to be coached. Where does that leave the midfielder's season?

Young players need regular minutes. And if Sahal isn't being given first-team minutes at Blasters, he could even consider a loan move to get playing time. Before the season kicked off, Blasters head coach had said, "He is a rough diamond, he needs time and coaching to grow. Young players, they need playing time. If you are within an ISL club and you don't play right away, you will lack playing time. Then you get supporters asking, why he is not playing? He needs time."

And that is exactly what has happened two months after the coach said these words. 

Eelco Schattorie has not had it easy with injuries to his players since he took charge of the club. Mario Arques, the midfielder who was expected to play a key role, only recently recovered from an injury that kept him out of most of the pre-season and the start of the season. In Arques' absence, Sergio Cidoncha was pushed deeper into midfield and it was evident that Sahal isn't the default choice of replacement. 

Patient for now but for how long?

After a goalless draw against Odisha, a match that Sahal started and played well, Schattorie said, "If I think Sahal (Samad) has to be on the bench, he will be on the bench. I know how to handle young players. He was fantastic today. I will stand behind my players." 

For now, the midfielder has accepted his limited role and is paying heed to his coach, as expected from a professional player. 

"The coach knows how to judge players. He says I have not reached the level that I need to be at to play in his system," the Kerala-born midfielder had told Goal.  "We have to defend also in football. Some players can attack, some can defend, I need to improve on the weaknesses." 

If the team had picked up good results without such a talent in the starting lineups, nobody would be questioning Schattorie's decision. However, the fact of the matter is, Blasters have continued to drop points at an alarming rate and they have done so with the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) Emerging Player of the Year on the bench. If results don't improve and the fan-favourite midfielder remains on the bench, the season could take a turn for the worse and for all the wrong reasons.

After an eight-game winless run, alarm bells should be ringing in Schattorie's ears. And his most creative player, meanwhile, is sitting on the sidelines and has been relegated to the role of an impact player.

The club's large fan base is already disgruntled.