Sahal Abdul Samad has emerged as a key member of the Indian football team in a short span of time but the youngster says he always tries to make sure that pressure of expectation does not affect his game.

Samad started as a reserve player for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League, but cameos during the 2017-’18 season prompted the then head coach David James to make him a starter for the next ISL season and since then the midfielder has not looked back.

The United Arab Emirates-born 22-year-old missed only just one game for Kerala Blasters in what was a disappointing 2018-’19 season and since then he has emerged as the midfield mainstay for the Kochi-based side.

With impressive performances for the national team against the likes of Asian champions Qatar in the World Cup qualifiers under his belt, Samad is considered one of the stars in the making. But, he says he is trying to keep his feet firmly on the ground.

“I am just trying to enjoy each game that I play. Every footballer has to go through this kind of pressure. But I am just making sure that it is not affecting my game,” Sahal said.

Samad’s style and technique on the ball caught the eye of national team coach Igor Stimac and soon he was part of the India squad. He featured for India in the King’s Cup in Thailand and was part of the midfield that took on Oman and Qatar in the World Cup qualifiers.

The Keralite played a crucial role in midfield as the Blue Tigers held Asian Cup champions Qatar to a goalless draw last month.

“It has been nothing short of amazing [to play for India]. It is a dream for any youngster to represent the nation. It was no different with me and that dream has come true,” said Samad, who is on national duty for the October 15 World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh.

As he prepares for the sixth season of ISL which kicks off with Kerala Blasters playing against ATK in Kochi on October 20, Sahal knows he is being considered as a valuable member of Eelco Schattorie’s squad.

While the midfielder is not succumbing to the extra pressure, he does feel the need to aim for the trophy that eluded Kerala Blasters twice in the first five years of the competition.

“Kerala Blasters FC is my second home. Everything that I am now, I owe it to Kerala Blasters and the coaching team. They have played a very important role in my development and integration into the first team,” he said.

“Each player is important in the squad as football is a team game. We all feel the same pressure playing for the badge. I am lucky to play for the millions of Kerala Blasters fans. It is great to feel valued. Every football club aims for the ultimate trophy. It is the same for us. We want to win the ISL,” he added.