Football: Sundram’s tactical nous right for Lions, say ex-players

Tampines Rovers' coach V. Sundramoorthy.
Tampines Rovers' coach V. Sundramoorthy. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Tactical discipline will be the hallmark of the national football team should V. Sundramoorthy be appointed to lead the Lions, say players who have worked with the current Tampines Rovers coach.

The post was vacated by German Bernd Stange last month, following the end of his contract.

Most players whom The Straits Times spoke to pointed to Sundram's expertise in defensive play as his most defining quality, evidenced by his stint at the helm of the LionsXII in 2012 and 2013, when he led the team to Malaysia Super League (MSL) glory in the second year.

During the 2013 league campaign, Sundram turned the LionsXII's den, Jalan Besar Stadium, into a fortress as the team were unbeaten at home. They also boasted the best defensive record in the MSL that year, conceding just 15 goals in 22 games.

Johor Darul Takzim midfielder Hariss Harun, who was part of Sundram's MSL-winning team, said: "Tactically he is very astute. He tries to set his team up very well with consideration to how the opponents are, and prepares his teams very well. That's his strength."

Other former LionsXII players like centre-back Baihakki Khaizan and winger Faris Ramli spoke of Sundram's defensive nous as one of his coaching strengths as well.

Baihakki said: "He takes on a safe kind of approach where it's best that we don't concede, that is the main priority.

"His training method involved a lot of repetition, as he wanted us to remember what to do and where to position during the game."

Faris added: "He taught me a lot of defensive and counter-attacking work. His classic move was defending set-pieces, where most of us would crowd the box, but immediately try to set up a three-on-two counter-attack situation when we gained possession."

Baihakki said that despite his emphasis on defence, Sundram, one of Singapore's top strikers in his heyday, will be able to add an attacking element to the Lions' game, should he get the nod.

He said: "I've watched Tampines play this season, and there is some flair in their game."

While some had differing views on Sundram's strengths, all felt that this is the best time for a local coach to lead the team, having not had one for almost 16 years.

Geylang International midfielder Isa Halim said: "It's time to give a chance to the locals, and somebody who wants the best for the team.

"We want to have that (local) identity, and it will be an achievement if we can win something with a local coach and local players."

Faris agreed, saying: "We need a local coach. Other countries are doing it, and it has worked out, because the locals know the system."

The upcoming Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup will be Sundram's biggest test if he is appointed, with local fans hoping for a good showing after the Lions were knocked out in the group stages in 2014.

While speculation is rife that the appointment of a local coach will only last till the end of the year, Hariss said: "We have to look one step at a time, and if things are going positively, I'm sure nobody will want to change anything. By focusing on the current situation, we are already preparing for the future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'Sundram's tactical nous right for Lions, say ex-players'. Subscribe