Football: The Lions' 'temporary one'

New Lions coach V. Sundramoorthy has no complaints about a one-year deal. While some are puzzled by his contract length and title of caretaker coach, the 50-year-old said he just wanted the dream role.
New Lions coach V. Sundramoorthy has no complaints about a one-year deal. While some are puzzled by his contract length and title of caretaker coach, the 50-year-old said he just wanted the dream role.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Sundram happy to 'grab' chance to lead Singapore, sets Suzuki Cup semi-final target

The worst-kept secret in Singapore football is out. V. Sundramoorthy is the new national football coach, the first Singaporean in 16 years to lead the Lions.

But what puzzled many was that the former national striker, who earned high praise from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), was only given the title of caretaker coach and offered a short one-year deal.

Attired in a grey suit, hair neatly combed, Sundram, 50, was hailed by the FAS as their No. 1 man.

The association claimed it turned down many qualified foreign candidates, including one who won a championship in one of Europe's top five leagues, to go local.

But the one-year contract, compared with two-year deals offered to previous Lions tamers Bernd Stange and Raddy Avramovic, together with the "caretaker" tag, suggests a lack of faith in his ability.

  • New Lion tamer's first picks

  • New national coach V. Sundramoorthy announced his first squad yesterday. They will take part in the AYA Bank Cup in Myanmar from June 3-6.

    Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny (Army United, Thailand), Izwan Mahbud (Tampines), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa). Defenders: Baihakki Khaizan (Johor Darul Takzim II, Malaysia), Madhu Mohana (Warriors FC), Noh Rahman, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Sujad (Tampines), Nazrul Nazari (Hougang), Safuwan Baharudin (PDRM, Malaysia). Midfielders: M. Anumanthan (Hougang), Hariss Harun (JDT I, Malaysia), Faris Ramli, Zulfahmi Arifin (Home), Izzdin Shafiq, Yasir Hanapi (Tampines), Gabriel Quak (Geylang). Forwards: Fazrul Nawaz (Tampines), Amy Recha, Sahil Suhaimi (Geylang), Azhar Sairudin (Home), Khairul Amri (Garena Young Lions), Shahril Ishak (JDT II).

    Fixtures - June 3: Myanmar v Singapore, Hong Kong v Vietnam June 6: Final/third-place play-off.

 

Facing a packed conference room at the Jalan Besar Stadium, FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong played down Sundram's designation and contract length. He said: "The term caretaker coach is just a form. The substance is that Sundram is indeed the national coach - technically, legally, (and) contractually. The length of the contract has very little bearing on the trust that we have in Sundram."

Lim, a lawyer, explained that contract duration should be commensurate with one's experience, noting that Stange (East Germany, Iraq and Belarus) and Avramovic (Kuwait) had coached national teams prior to leading Singapore.

He also suggested that the title, which implies it is an interim appointment, would mean less pressure for Sundram, adding: "If within a short time he has risen to the occasion and proven himself, maybe even before the end of the one-year contract the executive committee may even consider (extending his contract)."

Sundram joins from Tampines Rovers, having led them to the Asian Football Confederation Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday, the first local team to do so since 2008.

He replaces German Stange, whose 35-month reign ended last month with more lows than highs.

Sundram said the chance to fulfil his ambition to coach the Lions meant he cared little for the title or contract duration.

Opening with a joke about being uncomfortable in a suit, he said: "For me the most important thing is the opportunity to lead my country. It can be six months, a year or five years - I'll just grab whatever (and do) what I can to help Singapore football succeed."

It is believed Fandi Ahmad, who was assisting Stange, was also in the running for the job. But the Singapore legend wanted a multi-year contract instead of the one-year deal offered.

Lim said Fandi, contracted to FAS until the end of the year, still has a role to play, in particular with youth development, although it is understood the former national captain will assist Sundram with next week's competition in Myanmar.

Sundram is expected to work closely with technical director Michel Sablon in youth development and grooming local coaches.

While he has less than six months to the year-ending Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, often a barometer of the national coach's success, Sundram has a head start.

Many players from his 2013 Malaysian Super League-winning LionsXII team have since formed the core of the national team. In fact, he had groomed many of them when he coached S-League side Young Lions from 2007-2010.

He has set a semi-final target. Singapore are four-time champions of the biennial regional tournament, which starts in November.

"I am confident that we will perform well at the year-end Suzuki Cup," said Sundram, who began assisting Stange at national team matches since June last year.

"If I can win the Cup it'll be great, but to achieve the semi-final target is a very realistic target."

Today, Sundram will be at Geylang Field overseeing his first training session as national coach.

The reality of his dream appointment may not have fully sunk in. But, out of a suit and in his preferred sportswear, he needs to get comfortable fast - because his one-year audition starts now.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'The Lions' 'temporary one''. Print Edition | Subscribe