Fandi and Sundram to assist Stange at World Cup qualifiers
Sundram and Fandi under the microscope, perhaps for future role as national coach
They have long since hung up their boots, but are by far still the most recognisable faces in the football fraternity, and indeed, the Singapore's larger sporting community.
Fans have called for one or the other to take over the reins of the national football team, and now both V Sundramoorthy and Fandi Ahmad - neither of whom has kept his desire to lead the national team in the future a secret - have been called in to assist Bernd Stange for next month's World Cup qualifiers.
The duo were named in Stange's coaching team - along with a 21-man squad - for Saturday's friendly away to Bangladesh, and a June 6 fixture against Brunei in Singapore.
The New Paper had reported on May 16 that Sundram had been registered as assistant coach to the 67-year-old German, but the addition of former Singapore skipper Fandi suggests the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) aims to have a closer look at which of the two could earn the nod in the future.
"We are always looking to groom local coaches and help give them international exposure," Stange told TNP earlier.
"It was done before, with Mike Wong and Aide Iskandar, and now it is with Fandi and Sundram, two local coaches who have shown something."
Sundram led the LionsXII for two seasons, finishing second in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) in the team's inaugural year in Malaysian football that also saw them just pipped to a spot in the Malaysia Cup final.
Then, with a new-look team drilled to march to his tune of strict tactical discipline, the LionsXII went on a stunning run to win the MSL in 2013.
Fandi took over the reins from his former teammate and enjoyed less success in the league, finishing eighth last season and they are eighth in the 12-team MSL after 10 games this campaign.
But the LionsXII Class of 2015 cruised into the semi-finals of the Malaysian FA Cup, beating two lower-tier sides before holding off Terengganu, and then putting up a battling performance last Saturday to beat Kelantan 3-1 to take the trophy outside Malaysian soil for the first time.
Calling them the "best local coaches in Singapore with their recent achievements", FAS president Zainudin Nordin told The New Paper yesterday the move to rope in both men could benefit them as well as the national team.
"It does not matter if Fandi and Sundram have different personalities or different coaching styles. What is important is that they know most of the players in the national squad and their strengths and weaknesses," he said.
Zainudin revealed that Stange will allocate different responsibilities to each, while looking to incorporate their ideas in a qualifying campaign that will hopefully see the team reach new levels.
The Lions are in Group E, with Japan, Syria, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Cambodia, against whom they will open their campaign away on June 11.
Sundram had earlier told TNP that he would always be happy to answer the call of the nation, and yesterday, he sang the same tune.
"To be called up to your national team is always another feather in your cap, and big games like we will play in the World Cup qualifiers are what coaches need for experience," said the 49-year-old.
"I've worked with coaches like Raddy (Avramovic, three-time AFF Suzuki Cup-winning coach with Singapore), and you always try to gather as much as you can from them - and now with Bernd, too."
He does not see a problem teaming up with Fandi on the sidelines.
"We were teammates before, it'll be easy to work with him," said Sundram, who reiterated the desire of any coach of leading his national team.
Fandi echoed similar sentiments.
"It's always an honour to represent Singapore, be it as a player or coach," said Fandi, who will turn 53 on Friday.
"I have always stated my desire to coach the national team. This passion has not changed, and I'm ready to serve the country and help groom players and take Singapore football to the next level."
When asked if this is the start of a two-horse race to take over the reins when Stange does leave - his contract ends in August - Zainudin called for a focus.
"You asked if this is the start of a competition between the two. I feel that it detracts from our main objective - which is to provide them with ample developmental opportunities to help them become better coaches," he said.
"As they continue to grow from these opportunities, I am confident that they will eventually be ready to take on the top coaching positions in Singapore."
- Additional reporting by DAVID LEE
"Fandi and Sundram may bring in new and different ideas to the coaching team which is what Bernd (Stange) wants. He is looking forward to their inputs and to incorporate their ideas into his coaching plans to help the Lions reach a new level in their preparations for the World and Asian Cup qualifiers."
- FAS president Zainudin Nordin