Commentary

If Sundram can't motivate Lions, then it's time to go

Four months is left before the Lions, winless for a year for the first time since 1992, play their final Asian Cup qualifier at Chinese Taipei in March.

Four months is ideally what V. Sundram Moorthy has left to prove he can glue Singapore's football reputation back together.

Four months is what the coach, whose contract expires in March 2019, should have left to find a win.

Else it will be time to go.

Four months is so short a time that even Sundram understands the urgency for change. Maybe Sundram knows he is running out of time. Perhaps he can hear the fans calling for his removal.

Four months is what Sundram has left to prove he is worthy of remaining as the Lions' ringmaster. He is a clever man, who runs a few businesses, and believes in pragmatic football. His teams don't play pretty football but sport is not about aesthetics. It is about winning and Singapore aren't.

After 21 matches at the helm, Sundram has masterminded just two wins - 1-0 friendly triumphs over Myanmar and Cambodia - and none in a competitive match as Singapore failed to progress from the 2016 Suzuki Cup group stages and the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.

After Tuesday's 0-3 defeat by Bahrain, it is now 13 matches without a win for the Lions, a sequence of events that has not happened since 1980-81, according to Fifa records of A internationals.

There is no room for player power but if Sundram alienates and is unable to motivate the promising players this country has to offer then he has no chance and no extra time will help.

Four months is all Sundram deserves because he has had 19 months to mould the team according to his philosophy, with local mainstream and online media largely understanding and on his side for most of his stint.

Now there is not much time left to fix things and not much football to be played either.

Singapore's next scheduled match is against Chinese Taipei. With no S-League action until presumably March when the new season starts, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and Sundram must make the most of this period to arrange for decent sparring partners even if they are not Fifa friendlies.

After all, though the Chinese Taipei game is a dead rubber, it is still important to reinvigorate the team and re-establish a winning mentality.

And if there is no win in sight, then it must be time for a change, even if the FAS has shown a tendency to let their coaches see out their contracts regardless of results.

Sundram's predecessors Bernd Stange and Raddy Avramovic endured calls for their heads; the former finished empty-handed and the Serb left as Singapore's most successful coach with three Asean titles. Richard Tardy, the head coach of national youth teams, is still around despite some shocking results at all youth levels.

Sundram knows his fate depends on the players on the pitch. Many of them were in his LionsXII team which won the Malaysian Super League title in 2013.

But some of his national team selections have been baffling, ignoring the in-form players in the S-League.

Shahril Ishak, national skipper by name, has never started an international game under Sundram despite being the S-League's joint-top local scorer with 11 goals this season, in which the 33-year-old has played 29 of Warriors FC's 30 games.

Hougang United forward Fareez Farhan, 23, outscored all local players in the S-League last season with eight goals in 21 games despite playing for wooden-spooners Garena Young Lions, but did not receive a national call-up.

 

He remained overlooked this year despite four goals in 12 league matches for Hougang.

Of those he has picked, Sundram regularly deploys his best midfielder, Hariss Harun, in defence to accommodate his best defender, Safuwan Baharudin, in attack. There is no room for player power but if Sundram alienates and is unable to motivate the promising players this country has to offer then he has no chance and no extra time will help.

But defiant as he may be, Sundram has shown he is not as stubborn as some critics think.

He switched to a three-man defence in recent months, which has led to some decent attacking moves, even if it has not quite yielded a win.

Sundram needs good selection, good tactics, good luck and one good result to start with. He was a great player, a serious coach and he will not like this four-month deadline.

No one, understandably, wants to be put on the clock. But perhaps with Sundram, it's about time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'If Sundram can't motivate Lions, then it's time to go'. Print Edition | Subscribe