Sundram steps down as Lions coach
He was 'a dead man walking' when Lions went a year without a win, says source
In football, two things are highly prized: results and style.
V. Sundram Moorthy had neither and yesterday, following two years of underachievement as national coach, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that he would step down "by mutual consent" despite his contract having 11 more months to run.
Singapore did not win a competitive fixture under the 52-year-old and a source told The Straits Times that Sundram had been "a dead man walking" since last November, when the Lions went a full calendar year without a win after a 3-0 defeat by Bahrain that sealed their fate for the Asian Cup qualifiers.
His record stands at 15 losses and just three wins (in friendlies) in his 23 games in charge. In those matches, the Lions scored just 14 times, conceding 39. They were also knocked out of the 2016 Suzuki Cup group stages.
The source explained that it was a "results-based decision", noting: "With little or no results, fewer fans will support the team, which makes the team less attractive to sponsors. The ecosystem was not healthy."
Sundram's team selection and playing style also drew criticism. For example, Fareez Farhan was the top local scorer in the S-League in 2016, but did not receive a call-up despite the Lions' clear lack of goals.
Last year, former national skipper Shahril Ishak was one of the league's best players and was the joint-top local scorer but did not get a single start for the Lions under Sundram.
Said Home United playmaker Shahril: "Hopefully, the new coach will bring new ideas and team selection will be based on performances, whether the players are here or overseas."
Another player, who declined to be named, added: "The mood during national team trainings has generally been positive, and we would practise keeping the ball and attack.
"But on game days, he would become cautious and we would often find ourselves sitting back and pumping the ball long."
However, Warriors right-back Emmeric Ong felt that the FAS should have kept faith with Sundram.
He said: "We were slowly producing the performances, but pressure on getting results is probably what cost him his job ultimately.
"We could have been more adventurous, but you can't blame him for setting up the way he did as he enjoyed success with similar set-ups at club level with the LionsXII."
Lions captain Hariss Harun, who was part of Sundram's Malaysian Super League-winning LionsXII team in 2013, added: "His style and strength are tactical discipline and organisation.
"He gave us more freedom at club level but international football is of a higher level and perhaps he was more conservative because a lot more was at stake over a shorter campaign."
FAS president Lim Kia Tong noted that "Sundram gave his all in that role", acknowledging that the position of national coach was a "demanding task" and expressing his gratitude to the former star striker.
Said Sundram: "It has been an honour to have been given the opportunity to lead the national team. It has been an incredible learning experience for me and I have fond memories of working with the players and my colleagues at the FAS."
ST understands the leading candidates to take over, possibly on an interim basis, are national Under-23s and Young Lions' coach Fandi Ahmad, Home United's Aidil Sharin and Balestier Khalsa's Marko Kraljevic.
The timing of the decision - with less than seven months to the Nov 8 to Dec 15 Suzuki Cup which Singapore have won four times - raised eyebrows.
Said former former national defender R. Sasikumar: "If this was on the horizon, the FAS should have ripped off the band-aid earlier. They could have given the new coach a year to prepare well for the Suzuki Cup.
"A foreign coach needs around six months to understand the local context and get past formalities.
"If it's a local coach, a few questions need to be answered: Who is qualified? Who is going to risk his career for what seems to be a short stint, and what is the continuity if he manages to achieve good results at the Suzuki Cup?"