Working with Sablon will benefit Sundram, says Leonard Thomas
New Lions coach will benefit from working closely with Belgian guru Sablon
At the end of more than 120 minutes of action, I wonder what went through V Sundramoorthy's mind as he walked off the field at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday.
It was his final game as coach of Tampines Rovers and he'd just pulled off a tremendous result after the S.League giants made the AFC Cup quarter-finals at the expense of Mohun Bagan, beating the Indian outfit 2-1 after extra time despite having a man sent off.
Now for the biggest test of all, he may well have told himself.
Less than three days later, Sundram was officially unveiled as the new Singapore coach, the first local to assume the position since Vincent Subramaniam in 1998-2000.
He would have been delighted to hear Football Association of Singapore (FAS) vice-president Lim Kia Tong say at yesterday's press conference that the new coach will receive the full backing of the national body.
That means tune-up matches, training camps abroad and an extended preparation period for the national team before November's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, for which Sundram himself has set the target of a semi-final spot.
Lim revealed that Sundram will work closely with technical director Michel Sablon as he plots the rise of the Lions.
Strong-willed, fiercely independent and always suspicious of any sort of interference, I asked Sundram yesterday if it would be a problem, even if Sablon is one of the leading minds on football and coaching development in the world.
One is a 50-year-old son of the famous local football hotbed of Sembawang, the other is 68 and from Belgium, and the former Singapore star's response suggested that the unlikely marriage could work wonders for the game here.
Sundram described Sablon as a good person, first and foremost, and said he had no problem working with him, but that ultimately, decisions on the national team will be made by the national coach.
As it should be.
When it became obvious that Bernd Stange was leaving the national post, I had hoped for a top foreign coach to take over, with a local like Sundram as an understudy for two years, to become completely at home leading troops into battle on the international stage.
Sundram has been given his chance by the FAS and, if the partnership with Sablon blossoms, then the Lions and Singapore football have every chance to make hay.
Sundram's work ethic as a coach is widely acknowledged, he is meticulous in preparing his teams tactically.
He will need to quickly learn to joust mentally with his opposite number on occasion in the build-up to matches and be able to ease the pressure on his own players.
It may not be crucial in the less sophisticated climes of the S.League, but on the international stage, it is important in the chase for results.
Sundram preaches discipline, he doesn't indulge, and with so many of our players continuing to grapple with the demands of being professional, this demand is the right way forward for anyone who has the ambition to play for Singapore.
Amid the flashing cameras and questions yesterday, I recalled how a Sundram in tracksuit worked on the sidelines in India earlier this week, clearly the man in charge as he spoke to his players before extra- time kicked off.
Down to 10 men after a sending-off, I wondered at the time just what he told the likes of Izwan Mahbud, Afiq Yunos and Hafiz Abu Sujad.
It worked a treat.
Yesterday, as the top officials tried to explain their strange description of Sundram as the new caretaker coach of the national team, the man himself didn't care.
Every coach dreams of answering the nation's call, he said, clearly relishing the opportunity.
He couldn't wait to get out of his smart suit and tie and begin his first training session with the Singapore football team starting today.
And "live" on cable TV, local fans can watch the Lions in battle very soon, when they play a quadrangular in Myanmar from June 3 to 6 involving Vietnam, Hong Kong and the hosts.
He will no doubt be busy passing on instructions to his players, hoping it works a treat, this time on the international stage, for the feel-good factor to continue to affect the national team.
The Lions' Sundram era has begun, supported by an able Belgian.
And, an entire nation must be on board.