Kerala Blasters midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad is all set for a ‘strange ISL season’…
The Malayali midfielder, who recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club till 2025, spoke to Goal just before the season started and expressed his confidence in the squad.
“Everyone’s hopeful of a good season. My family’s supporting me from home. They have asked me to focus on the game and enjoy what I’m doing. The atmosphere in the team is pretty good. We have that positive feeling, the coach, players, staff – everyone’s motivated (for the season).”
The bio-bubble forced upon players due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that all games will be played behind closed doors have made this season a strange one for both footballers and coaches. Sahal believes it will be a challenge at first.
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“Being in a bio bubble and playing before empty stands might be a challenge at first. It is strange without the fans. We were used to that season opener excitement, but we have to accept the situation now.”
The ISL teams have struggled to be at their best at the start of the season due to the short pre-season that they’ve all had. Kerala Blasters lost their opener to ATK Mohun Bagan and conceded two second-half goals to allow NorthEast United to come back and secure one point.
“Pre-season is always crucial for a team’s performance throughout the season. We had to adapt to new conditions and restrictions. We had to be careful after a long break from the game,” Sahal said.
He added, “Players might take time adapting to the conditions in Goa. But I think physically we would be better. Most players were focusing on their fitness during the lockdown, so it will be helpful throughout the season.”
The 23-year-old has played under several head coaches at Kerala Blasters since coming through from the reserves. Kibu Vicuna is his fifth coach after Rene Meulensteen, David James, Nelo Vingada and Eelco Schattorie. Sahal opined that the former Mohun Bagan coach has a role for every player in the team
“Kibu Vicuna is a great tactician with a good plan. He’s got a role for everyone in the team. He will do what’s best for the team and individual roles will change for that common goal.”
The footballer from Kannur is also of the opinion that Blasters will have to be alert against all the teams in the ISL as it is difficult to pick one particular team as their toughest rival.
“We can’t consider one team as the toughest opponent. There are 10 opponents and they are all equal to us. Every team is tough and we respect all of them. All of us play good football. We don’t take anyone lightly. All 10 oppositions play good possession game so we see all of them equally.”
Sahal has had the chance to play with highly reputed footballers at Blasters and this season also he will be sharing the first team with footballers who have prior experience in Premier League (Gary Hooper) and La Liga (Bakary Kone). The young midfielder is hoping to learn from their approach to matches.
“Our squad is a blend of exciting youngsters and experienced foreigners. There are players with experience in top leagues including La Liga and Premier League. There is a lot for us to learn from them. The way they approach the game, their style of play. It is a great opportunity to play alongside such players.”