Football: Divided on Sundram's stay

National coach V. Sundramoorthy came under fire for his ultra-defensive tactics, piling as many as six defenders in his bid to eke out points and victories.
National coach V. Sundramoorthy came under fire for his ultra-defensive tactics, piling as many as six defenders in his bid to eke out points and victories. PHOTO: ST FILE

Lions coach's contract extension draws mixed reaction from local football fraternity

National coach V. Sundramoorthy may have been given a vote of confidence by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) with a two-year contract extension on Monday, but members of the local football community are divided over whether it was the right move.

Lions fan Tan Hwee Heng, 42, questioned if Sundram's pragmatic style of football can lift Singapore, ranked 163rd in the Fifa world rankings, out of the doldrums.

Under the 51-year-old coach, the Lions suffered their worst performance at the biennial Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, crashing out in the group stage last year with one draw and two losses.

Sundram also came under fire for his ultra-defensive tactics, piling as many as six defenders in his bid to eke out points and victories - a playing style which did not go down well with fans.

Tan said: "What everyone wants to see is that Singapore can play attractive football like the Thais . But we can see that his style of play is not attractive enough.

"I feel disappointed because I think it's clear to see, through the results, that he's not the right man for the job."

But K. Balagumaran, who was assistant coach to Sundram at the now-defunct LionsXII in 2013 and at Negeri Sembilan in 2014, said that given two more years, Sundram will win the hearts of fans.

He said: "Perhaps players might not be able to understand Sundram's philosophy and tactics.

"They might not understand why Sundram enforces a certain style of play and rules with his players. But as a person who has worked with him before, I can understand.

"He's not there to please us in playing attractive football. He does everything he can in order to win, even if it means parking the bus.

"Once the younger and newer players start to understand this by working with him more, things will start to click. He reads his opponents well, he's a smart tactician and has a no-nonsense work ethic."

Singapore captain Shahril Ishak also believes that some of the criticism aimed at Sundram has been harsh.

The 33-year-old forward said: "Each coach has his own style of play and his strengths, so it will not be fair to say that Sundram's style is not good. Sundram is tactically strong in defence."

Sundram was originally appointed on a one-year deal as a caretaker coach, and others feel that extending his tenure by two more years will give him more time to plan for the long term.

Said vice-captain Hariss Harun: "There's some continuity. Now he has more time to shape and build up the team.

"We know his style of play is different from that of (former national coach) Bernd Stange. As professional players, it's our duty to work together with the coach."

Sundram's first task after his contract extension will come next Thursday, when he will lead the Lions to face Afghanistan in a friendly in Doha.

That match is a warm-up ahead of Singapore's AFC Asian Cup qualifiers opening group match away against Bahrain on March 28.

Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei complete Group E, and the top two will qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

Ronnie Lee, 56, a football management consultant, said: "Since he took charge of the team last year, the team haven't been performing.

"You can't blame him, because there are not enough players coming in through the (youth) system."

Philippe Aw, the coach of S-League club Hougang United, said: "It's good that he has been given time to prove himself. Now that he has time, he can show what he can do to aid local football at the highest level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2017, with the headline 'Divided on Sundram's stay'. Print Edition | Subscribe