Football: Sundram eyes results

Sundram together with national captain Shahril Ishak at his first training session yesterday, after being appointed national coach. "With social media these days and the expectation of the fans, everybody has their views. It won't be an easy role but
Sundram together with national captain Shahril Ishak at his first training session yesterday, after being appointed national coach. "With social media these days and the expectation of the fans, everybody has their views. It won't be an easy role but it doesn't scare me," he said.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Victory matters more than performance, says new coach as he explains guiding philosophy

For a coach whose style is steeped in pragmatism, V. Sundramoorthy's outlook on football is unexpectedly ruled by superstitions.

The national players, many of whom trained under Sundram previously at the Young Lions and LionsXII, know not to cut their nails or their hair on game day to avoid incurring their coach's wrath.

Off-field idiosyncrasies aside, Singapore's new head coach made it clear he will not budge from his results-driven approach as he started his one-year tenure yesterday.

Pressed on his coaching philosophy, the 50-year-old told The Sunday Times: "The most important thing (to ask) is after 90 minutes when the referee blows the whistle, what's the score? Everybody is looking at that, whether we play defensive or push out to attack. The bottom line is to get the result.

"You want to play beautiful football and let the players enjoy (it), but not at the expense of losing the game."

His defensive tag was cemented as LionsXII coach, when the well-drilled outfit won the Malaysian Super League in 2013 with the best defensive record, conceding just 15 goals in 22 games.

Yet at Tampines, boosted by former English Premier League star Jermaine Pennant, the Stags played a more cavalier brand of football.

Explaining this switch, Sundram, who also coached the Young Lions in the S-League previously, said: "It depends on what you have. If you have the quality of Fandi (Ahmad) or Jermaine, you have no choice but to play to their strengths."

This utilitarian approach was evident even from his days as player-coach at Jurong FC.

Former Jurong midfielder Fabio da Silva recalled the hours that Sundram, then still a rookie coach, spent drilling the team in set-pieces on the training ground.

"To him set-pieces are the shortest route to scoring goals so we worked on them a lot. And it's true, you see it paying off in games. I learnt a lot from his set-piece preparation," said the Brazilian, now a successful school football coach.

"Sundram is a very clever coach. He plays smart to win the game, based on killing the opponent's strengths and playing to ours."

This pragmatism extends to the sensitive issue of foreign players.

Sundram said it would be great if the national team can be bolstered by players including Jordan Webb (Canadian) and Sirina Camara (French). Both have met Fifa's five-year residency rule.

"Hopefully we can get them. It will help our preparations," he said.

Dream job in hand, Sundram said he relished the pressure that comes along with the hotseat, even if some previous national coaches have wilted in the spotlight.

Predecessor Bernd Stange, for instance, had clashed with local journalists on several occasions.

Sundram said: "With social media these days and the expectation of the fans, everybody has their views. It won't be an easy role but it doesn't scare me. As long as the criticism is not personal and is based on football I'm okay."

His first assignment is the quadrangular AYA Bank Cup in Myanmar, which starts on Friday with a clash against the host nation. Less than six months later, he faces arguably his biggest coaching challenge - the Asean Football Federation Championship.

If it sounds daunting, the man is hardly cowed. He said: "The most important thing is I'm familiar with the players and they are familiar with me.

"I can get the best out of them."

High-flying Thailand will start as overwhelming favourites to retain the Cup even before a ball is kicked. But if Singapore need a result, it seems they have the right man at the helm.

  • Catch all four Aya Bank Cup matches live at www.elevensports.sg, via the Eleven Sports app, or on Singtel TV channel 109.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Sundram eyes results'. Print Edition | Subscribe