Sundram: It's all about results
New Lions coach sets semi-final target for Suzuki Cup; wants more high-intensity matches
He was christened "The Dazzler" after years of thrilling 55,000 fans at the old National Stadium with his intricate dribbling skills, tricks and flicks.
Yesterday at the Jalan Besar Stadium, V Sundramoorthy continued to dazzle, albeit without a football in sight.
Looking elegant in a grey blazer and silver tie, the 50-year-old was all smiles as he was officially unveiled the new national coach at a packed press conference.
After agreeing a one-year contract, he is the first local coach of the Lions since Vincent Subramaniam, who led the team from 1998 to 2000.
After fielding questions and obliging with photo-calls, Sundram sat down with The New Paper for a one-on-one chat and shared why he believes he could lead Singapore football forward.
Sundram's target for the Lions in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, which will be co-hosted by Myanmar and the Philippines this November, is a semi-final spot.
After the Lions' dismal outing the last time round under Sundram's predecessor Bernd Stange - defending champions Singapore were knocked out in the group stage on home soil - many in the local fraternity suggested that football here had reached its lowest ebb, but the new coach said: "If (they) say we're at our lowest, then the only way we can go is up.
"And for me, I know the players.
"I was attached to the team with Raddy (Avramovic) and Bernd, I've had a taste of international football and I believe that with hard work, we can match the strong teams.
"If we're talking about the Suzuki Cup and this region, there's always a chance of getting to the semi-finals. That's why I set that target."
He already has plans to take the team on training camps overseas in preparation for the Suzuki Cup, with the Middle East and Japan possible destinations.
Stange, who was in charge for almost three years from May 2013, infamously wanted the football system to adopt the pass-and-move game, but later conceded that the national players were unable to do so due to their fitness level.
So what is the Sundram philosophy?
"To see the opponents, go out there and play to our strengths," he said, without skipping a beat.
"If I'm a youth coach, I can tell you this is my philosophy, this is my formation, this is the way I want to play and so on...
"But as a national coach, it's about results."
Sundram's meticulous approach as a coach is well known.
When he was in charge of the LionsXII, he sometimes prepared for away matches by picking training grounds in Singapore that were closest to the pitch dimensions of the particular stadium in Malaysia.
This approach is what helped him lead the LionsXII to their famous Malaysian Super League title in 2013, with a team made up mainly of players aged 23 or under.
Sundram has also led Singapore Selection sides in high-profile matches against Arsenal, Stoke City and Atletico Madrid in recent years, and he admits he relishes the challenge of going up against world-class teams.
"Honestly, it's great, man," he said.
"We need more games like that. More high-intensity games.
"Let the boys feel, you know? Make them run 90 minutes and chase South Korea or Japan.
"Let's see where we are."
Sources have indicated to TNP that, as assistant coaches to Stange, Sundram and Fandi Ahmad - another local legend who was considered by FAS for the top job - played big roles in helping the Lions pull off the stunning 0-0 draw with powerhouses Japan in a World Cup qualifier last June that has now been dubbed the "Miracle of Saitama".
All Sundram can think of now, however, is stepping onto the training ground today as national coach for the first time.
"I'm up for the challenge," he said.
"I'm a fighter.
"Like what you said, there will be a lot of pressure from the outside.
"But which national coach does not have pressure?
"In football, local or foreigner, everybody depends on the result.
"If you're good, you stay. If not, you're sacked. Nothing too hard about it.
"I'll just try to motivate the boys, be honest with them and do the job."
WHAT THEY SAY
“The FAS has made a good choice to appoint a local coach.
“The Suzuki Cup is only five months away, so it is important to have a coach who knows what the players can do and deliver.
“Some may say he is a defensive-minded coach, but... during our time at the LionsXII, we played good attacking football at home.
“If we play away against stronger teams, it is natural we play more defensively. And we were successful.”
— National captain Shahril Ishak
“No disrespect to foreigners, but I believe, for South-east Asian countries, a local coach knows better.
“Moreover, someone like Sundram has been involved with the FAS for a very long time.
“Anyway, if you can keep a foreign coach (Raddy Avramovic) for nine years, who knows, maybe Sundram can do a good job and you can keep him for 10 years.”
— Malaysia national coach Ong Kim Swee
“It’s a good idea for FAS to appoint Sundram because he’s local, he knows the players, and he knows the culture of Singapore football.
“But, with only five months to prepare the national team for the Suzuki Cup, I feel that time is not on his side and to judge his performance based on the Suzuki Cup is not right.
“I believe that if you give Sundram more time, he will deliver.”
— Former national player Rafi Ali
“If you look at our national squad, we don’t have the best players compared to the region and so we need someone like Sundram to lead the team to glory.
“He was my coach before (at Jurong FC) and he has been waiting for this moment a very long time.
“I’m glad that he was finally given the chance.”
— Former national player R Sasikumar
Why I can lead the team forward: Sundram
1983: Makes debut for Singapore in Malaysia Cup, aged 18
1983: First international cap
1988: Joins Swiss club FC Basel
1989: Signs for Kedah
1990: Wins Malaysia Cup with Kedah and scores the opener in a 3-1 extra-time win over Singapore in the final
1992: Returns to play for Singapore, but could do nothing as the Lions are relegated to Semi-Pro League Division Two
1993: Helps Singapore to runners-up spots in Semi-Pro League Division Two and Malaysia Cup. Scores a memorable bicycle-kick in an 8-0 thrashing of Brunei
1994: Joins Kelantan
1995: Signs for Woodlands Wellington and plays for them in the S.League's inaugural season the following year
1998: Signs for Jurong FC (pictured) and becomes their player-coach the following year
2004: Appointed national Under-18 coach
2007: Appointed Young Lions coach
2012: Appointed LionsXII coach, leading them to second spot in Malaysian Super League and Malaysia Cup semi-finals.
2013: Wins Malaysian Super League with LionsXII
2013: Appointed Negeri Sembilan coach
2014: Appointed Tampines Rovers coach
2016: Leads Tampines Rovers into quarter-finals of AFC Cup, the first Singaporean team to do so since SAFFC (now Warriors FC) and Home United in 2008
2016: Appointed national team coach on one-year contract