For six seasons, the supporters of Kerala Blasters have endeared themselves to Sandesh Jhingan. But all journeys come to an end and Jhingan's adventure at the Kochi-based club has also crossed the finish line.
Jhingan was considered an icon at the club. After spending six seasons and becoming the player with the most appearances for the Yellow Army, it is not surprising that the football fans in the state grew fond of him.
There were banners, chants, tattoos and stickers with Jhingan's face on it - when people talked about Blasters, Jhingan was one of the first names on everyone's lips. But now, the time has come for someone else to take over the mantle.
And who else, but Sahal Abdul Samad. He, who gets the loudest cheer when the stadium announcer at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium names the team sheet ahead of all home matches. shall now seamlessly slot in to replace the India international defender as Kerala's poster boy.
Sahal is already a heavy fan favourite in Kerala but with Jhingan leaving, there is going to be much more focus on the 23-year-old. He has a contract that runs till 2022 and although he couldn't perform to the best of his abilities and nail down a first-team role last season under Eelco Schattorie, it is set to be a new beginning for the player once the lockdown ends and the club returns to action for pre-season.
Being one of the most hyped-up midfielders in India, Sahal is also linked with a move away from Blasters but as it stands, he is set to stay at the place he likes to call 'home'.
Having started his Blasters career with the reserve team, he quickly earned plaudits for his displays and moved up to the first team under David James. It was in the 2018-19 season that Sahal truly arrived at the grand stage with brilliant performances and mesmerising footwork at the centre of the park. His performances that season helped him win the Young Player of the Year gong by both the ISL and the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
There are oohs and aahs when Sahal gets on the ball for Kerala Blasters. It's all set up perfectly well for him to be the next big thing at Kerala Blasters, after Sandesh Jhingan who came, conquered and left.