Football: Puzzle pieces falling into place

Tampines' management and players believe their coach Sundram, having won the Malaysia Super League, has the right credentials and experience to lead the Singapore national team.
Tampines' management and players believe their coach Sundram, having won the Malaysia Super League, has the right credentials and experience to lead the Singapore national team. TNP FILE PHOTO
Captain Fahrudin Mustafic, at the Pentagon Football Academy launch, will be the Stags' assistant manager cum player.
Captain Fahrudin Mustafic, at the Pentagon Football Academy launch, will be the Stags' assistant manager cum player. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TAMPINES ROVERS

Akbar to replace Sundram as Stags coach, aided by Herman and Mustafic

Tampines Rovers have unveiled a new-look coaching line-up which paves the way for current head coach V. Sundramoorthy to take charge of Singapore's national football team.

The Stags' Asian Football Confederation round-of-16 clash against Indian team Mohun Bagan on Tuesday will be Sundram's final match at the helm of the five-time S- League champions, club chairman Krishna Ramachandra confirmed to The Sunday Times yesterday.

Current assistant coach Mohammad Akbar will replace Sundram. He will be aided by goalkeeper trainer Mohammed Herman and captain Fahrudin Mustafic, who will double up as assistant manager and player.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Stags' Pentagon Football Academy launch at kit sponsor Decathlon's Chai Chee store, Krishna said: "It was a very quick decision to appoint Akbar as head coach.

"I've been impressed with him since last year when he did wonders with our Prime League squad. He's got the right qualifications.

HOME-GROWN LEADER

I fully support it, 100 per cent. I'm very proud that Tampines Rovers have been able to produce a national coach. It's always a pinnacle of a coach's career and we, as a club, are proud to have contributed to his appointment.

KRISHNA RAMACHANDRA, Tampines Rovers chairman, on the prospect of head coach V. Sundramoorthy leaving the club to take over as Singapore national coach.

"I'm very pro-local also. There's no reason why we shouldn't be promoting within the ranks if our own coaches are competent enough."

Akbar, 40, was in charge of the Stags' Prime League outfit last season and led them to their first title.

The Singaporean has 17 years of coaching under his belt - albeit in the lower tiers. This is his first stint taking charge of an S-League side.

When asked if Sundram, who has been with Tampines for 18 months, had his blessings to become national coach, Krishna said: "I fully support it, 100 per cent. I'm very proud that Tampines Rovers have been able to produce a national coach.

"It's always a pinnacle of a coach's career and we, as a club, are proud to have contributed to his appointment."

Sundram met Football Association of Singapore officials on Thursday to discuss the terms of his contract as well as his backroom staff.

However, it is understood that no official deal has been made yet nor will one be struck until after his return to Singapore.

Sundram and Tampines depart for Kolkata this morning.

The 50-year-old former Singapore international, who guided the now-disbanded LionsXII to the 2013 Malaysia Super League title, declined comment.

The Lions are scheduled to compete in a quadrangular football tournament next month in Myanmar against the hosts, Vietnam and Hong Kong and November's Asean Football Federation Championship.

Despite the pressures, Sundram is the right man to lead the Republic, said two-time AFF Championship winner Mustafic.

He added: "Most of the South-east Asian countries have improved a lot but if anybody knows the boys well and can motivate the squad to play their best, it has to be Sundram and he'll do a good job."

With regards to the possibility of Sundram returning to Tampines after his national coaching stint, a coy Krishna said it was premature to comment at this juncture but reaffirmed his faith in Akbar.

Tampines are second in the league on 22 points, seven behind leaders Albirex Niigata.

Besides closing the gap, Akbar will have to contend with a squad that includes star names like ex-Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant and a host of Singapore internationals.

Akbar was confident of continuing the good work of his predecessor. He said: "Sundram leaves behind a solid unit and the aim now is to build on that.

"As I take charge - to impose my philosophy and structure on the players, I'm sure the dressing room and management will support me so I'm not worried about that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 22, 2016, with the headline 'Puzzle pieces in place'. Print Edition | Subscribe