FAS has chosen the right man, says Godfrey Robert
After an intensive search, FAS makes the right move as the kampung boy becomes the Lions' tamer
There is a tinge of trepidation.
A fear of failure.
A strangling nervousness when we allow this reality to sink in.
The biggest on-field job for Singapore's No. 1 sport is being handed to a kampung boy.
That at a difficult time when some illustrious names - all foreigners with long CVs - could not deliver.
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) must be commended for biting the bullet and appointing V Sundramoorthy as the national coach. Interim it may be.
And at a fraction of what his foreign predecessors Jan Poulsen, Raddy Avramovic and Bernd Stange were paid (with allowances) to do the job.
But those arguments are for another time.
For now, let us welcome Sundram, our homegrown talent who gave us many reasons to celebrate on football fields that spanned Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland and the region with his dazzling playing skills.
Can the once-scrawny kid from Sembawang whose life revolved - and still revolves - around football now dazzle outside the playing field?
Only time will tell, with the AFF Suzuki Cup in November his biggest test.
It will be an examination that will weigh heavily over whether he continues as coach of the Lions beyond the current one-year contract.
But, for now, for all the FAS' faults, it did the right thing to hand over the national coaching reins to a tried-and-tested Sundram after the Lions have been helmed by foreign coaches for the past 15 years.
The last Singaporean to sit in this hot seat was Vincent Subramaniam, who took charge in 1998 and left the post in 2000.
Foreign coaches like Trevor Hartley, Barry Whitbread, Milous Kvacek, Ken Worden and Douglas Moore have coached Singapore, along with local names like Sebastian Yap, Hussain Aljunied, Jita Singh, Seak Poh Leong, P N Sivaji and Robin Chan.
Of course, the late Choo Seng Quee remains our legend, "a la Alex Ferguson" for his tactical nous and no-nonsense approach to the game.
His was a unique brand of professionalism, laced with the occasional obscenity aimed at the under-performers.
Sundram is no Choo, the "Uncle" who mixed enthusiasm with eccentricity to bring about success (read the Malaysia Cup triumphs of 1965 and 1977).
Where Sundram scores is in his uncanny knack for being easy-going yet strict, appearing diffident when he is actually decisive, and his great rapport with players makes them play for him.
And, importantly, he speaks their language.
For almost 60 years, I have known Sundram's family (having played with his dad S. Varatharaju and uncle S. Munusamy in my teenage days), and all our conversations have been, even with Sundram, about football.
In fact, football has been Sundram's life from his Naval Base days - as it had been with the quintessential Quah family from the same neighbourhood.
In his late teens, he made the national team and later spent a stint in Basel, Switzerland.
It is hard to imagine that the silky, gifted footballer is now 50, an ideal age to take on a serious coaching role.
Sundram is no spring chicken when it comes to coaching - he has guided Jurong FC, the National Football Academy team, the Young Lions, Negeri Sembilan and Tampines Rovers for almost two decades now.
He once told The New Paper: "It's a one-game role (right now). But if down the road, I'm given the job permanently, it would be an absolute dream.
"I played for my country and I would like to coach my country. Years from now, I'd like to be able to look back at my career and say I did it all."
Sundram has had considerable success at Malaysian inter-state level with the LionsXII in 2013.
Now the big one at international level - the Suzuki Cup - beckons.
Where Sundram can draw strength for this mission is in the knowledge that the majority of Singaporeans are behind him.
I can't say the same for some of our former coaches, though.
'He can do the job'
Zainudin Nordin. TNP PHOTO: CHOO CHWEE HUA
The Lions officially have a new man at the helm.
At a press conference at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday, V Sundramoorthy was unveiled as the caretaker coach of the national football team on a one-year contract.
The New Paper had reported on May 13, after weeks of speculation, that the 50-year-old former national star striker would be offered the job by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
But his job title raised some eyebrows.
FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong was asked a number of times yesterday why the football body decided to term the position as "caretaker coach".
Said Lim: "Technically, legally, contractually, if Sundram is prepared to reveal the terms of his contract, all the terms suggest he is, in substance, the national coach.
"So let's not distract from the fact he is indeed national coach, and will carry out his duty as the national coach."
So why label Sundram a caretaker?
Lim brushed aside the question and said, of Sundram: "This man did not bother about the description.
"This man believed in the substance of his appointment... wants to do well... (and) wants to show a local coach can make it.
"And if he doesn't make it... perhaps the caretaker coach title will remain."
Sundram himself did not appear too bothered by the brouhaha surrounding his title.
"For me, the most important thing is the opportunity," he said.
"It has always been my dream... I'm not really looking at the length of the contract.
"I'm just looking at the dream I want to achieve.
"Coaches come and go, but an opportunity like this comes once in my lifetime.
"So it could be six months, one year or five years. I just grab whatever I can do for my country and to help Singapore football to succeed."
FAS president Zainudin Nordin suggested the "caretaker" label would mean less pressure for Sundram.
"Have you heard of the term "Acting Minister" before?" Zainudin asked TNP.
"He's doing a minister's job, but he's the Acting Minister.
"So I think we must also be able to understand.
"(Sundram) can do the job, (and) we need to be able to give him the opportunity.
"Not put too much pressure.... but at the same time give him the full support.
"To me, that is the key."
Zainudin also backed Sundram to prove his worth at international level.
Pointing to the coach's Malaysian Super League triumph with a predominantly Under-23 LionsXII side in 2013, and his sojourn across the Causeway to lead Negeri Sembilan the following year, the Singapore football chief said: "He has strong character, determination, the willingness to learn and astute thinking as a coach.
"Of course, now working with our technical director and technical team, I'm sure he will learn even more.
"And I believe he can be an international coach that even foreign countries would want to employ."