Singapore football coach Sundram begins work
New Lions coach rallies players as he gives a glimpse of team's style of play
He described his appointment as a dream come true.
But it was very much business as usual for new national coach V Sundramoorthy yesterday, as he took his first training session with the Lions following the announcement of his appointment a day earlier.
He arrived two hours before training was scheduled to start at the Geylang Field and, after a quick drink at the coffeshop next door, got down to work.
The 50-year-old held a briefing with his coaching team as the players started to stream in.
After emerging from his conference, Sundram made it a point to go round the facility to shake hands with each player.
His main message to the squad was that everyone was valuable in his eyes.
"This is a good bunch of boys who are willing to work hard," he told The New Paper, later.
"I spoke to them and told them we are all together, and we need to work with one another.
"The most important thing is the team."
The squad were also greeted by Football Association of Singapore bigwigs Lim Kia Tong (vice-president), Winston Lee (general secretary) and Michel Sablon (technical director), with Lim delivering a short message of encouragement to the team before training started.
When it was time to get to work, the players strapped on heart-rate monitors and then had their first experience of working with new fitness coach Balder Berckmans, who helped them work up a sweat.
Then, they started working with the ball, with Sundram urging his men to play crisp passes in one drill, before carrying out a two-sided possession exercise.
It was clear this would be the philosophy adopted by the new Lions boss.
Said Sundram: "Fitness is one part of the game.
"The other, and to me most important, is keeping possession of the ball.
"If we lose the ball cheaply, that's when problems come.
"Right now, the boys are in season, so generally their fitness levels are okay.
"But, leading up to the Suzuki Cup, I think we need more centralised training sessions and camps to get it up another level."
He told TNP in an interview after his appointment at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday that he has made plans to take the team on training camps overseas in preparation for November's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, with the Middle East and Japan possible destinations.
The Suzuki Cup, which will be co-hosted by Myanmar and the Philippines, will be Sundram's biggest test and he has set the Lions a semi-final target.
Singapore had a dismal outing the last time round under Sundram's predecessor Bernd Stange, as they were knocked out in the opening group stage on home soil in a sorry defence of the title they won in 2012.
Sundram vouched for the current crop of Lions.
"I just need the boys to stay focused and understand what we want in training, and transfer that into games," he said.
"If we can do that, we'll be okay."
- Sundram's Lions will be playing in the AYA Bank Cup, an international quadrangular tournament, in Myanmar from June 3 to 6. The squad leave for Yangon on Wednesday, and play the hosts on Friday. Depending on results, Singapore will then play either Hong Kong or Vietnam on June 6.
National players vow to give their all for Sundram
They know what to expect from the new man in charge, but the Lions are not about to take things for granted.
Senior heads Baihakki Khaizan and Hariss Harun yesterday said they enjoyed the first training session under new national coach V Sundramoorthy.
Both had played for Sundram in the LionsXII team that participated in Malaysia's domestic club competitions and memorably lifted the Malaysian Super League title in 2013, and are familiar with the 50-year-old coach's tactics.
Bai, who has 123 caps, said: "Sundram is in fact the first local national coach I have (been under) in my international career and we can feel the local spirit coming together.
"Having worked with him at the LionsXII, there were some flashbacks today as we went about our fitness and tactical work.
"But we need to realise that he is now the national coach and no more the LionsXII or Tampines coach.
"We need to step up one or two more gears if we want to achieve something at the international level.
"We won't have as much time together as we had at the LionsXII, so we need to give Sundram all the support he needs."
Sundram's meticulous approach as a coach is well known.
With 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.
He will no doubt be as thorough with his preparations for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, which will be co-hosted by Myanmar and the Philippines in November.
He has targeted a semi-final spot, to recover some pride after the Lions' dismal outing the last time round under Sundram's predecessor Bernd Stange in 2014. Then, they were knocked out in the opening group stage on home soil in a failed defence of the crown they won in 2012 under Serb Raddy Avramovic, who had been in charge since 2003.
Hariss revealed the current Lions boss has demanded an improvement in keeping hold of the ball, saying it would be vital to their hopes of success.
"Sundram was, and still is, very meticulous and wants to get the most from us," said the 61-cap vice-captain.
"But now, he has new members in his backroom such as fitness coach (Balder Berckmans), who has introduced new exercises.
"Sundram himself also has new possession drills, as he wants to condition us to keep the ball better at the international level."
Youngster M Anumanthan, has played under Sundram at youth international tournaments in the past,
"It's very positive," said the 21-year-old midfielder, who has six caps to his name.
"Everyone is optimistic and most of us are familiar with Sundram and his tactics.
"He told us he's happy to be here, he believes in us and that's why he selected us, and he wants us to work together.
"As a young player, I just follow the lead of the seniors and do my best in training."
V Sundramoorthy's first training session as Lions coach yesterday did not exactly go perfectly.
He was missing two goalkeepers in Zaiful Nizam and Thailand-based star Hassan Sunny, who both had club commitments.
He was also dealt a blow when veteran defender Noh Rahman decided to withdraw from the squad.
The Tampines Rovers man, who turns 36 in August, met Sundram two hours before training to inform him of his decision.
Noh told The New Paper: "I'm calling time on my international career... I told coach Sundram I appreciated the fact he still valued me as a national player, but I'm going to turn 36 and I don't think I'm in the right condition to play at this level any more.
"More than that, I'm taking a part-time diploma, and I told him I will find it hard to balance both football and studies, especially with Tampines still in the AFC Cup.
"It's not an easy decision for me. I spent the whole of last night thinking about it but, as much as I still have the passion to play for the national team, my concern now is more to life after football."
Sundram said he would call up a replacement to take Noh's place, but declined to name who he had in mind. - SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ