So, the open secret is finally confirmed. No we are not talking about Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United appointment. But coincidence or not, at roughly the same time the Special One was unveiled, the Football Association of Singapore announced at Jalan Besar yesterday that V Sundramoorthy has officially taken over as national football coach.
But wait, the FAS may take issue with that designation, as they took great pains to deliberately include the term “caretaker” as a prefix at the media session. What was supposed to be Sundram’s day in the sun was nearly overshadowed by journalists questioning the FAS bigwigs on the use of the term.
Unconvincingly, FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong responded: “We have to be quite honest, the term caretaker coach is just a form, the substance is that Sundram is indeed the national coach.
“During the panel interview, Sundram demonstrated a lot of hunger to be the national coach.
“Sundram was fully aware of the term caretaker coach, but this man did not bother about the description. This man believes in the substance of his appointment; this man wants to do well and he wants to show a local coach can make it.”
Erm, okay. If the term was indeed so trivial, then why include it in the first place? Lim made it an even more bizarre press conference when he tried to explain why Sundram was given a one-year contract when his foreign predecessors like Bernd Stange and Radojko Avramovic were handed two-year deals.
“Raddy and Bernd are coaches who came here armed with exposure at the national level,” he said. “They came here with certain values and we measure that with the length of the contract. So if you were to ask me, we are giving him this very valuable opportunity to excel. I would have to say 50 per cent of the contract of what we gave to the foreign coach is a very good offer.
“Let’s put to rest once and for all, the length of the contract has little bearing on the trust we have in Sundram.”
To be sure, the Dazzler himself did not seem too fussed about the terms of the deal. After all, he did put pen to paper. In becoming Singapore’s first local-born national football coach since Vincent Subramaniam stepped down in 2000, Sundram was naturally delighted.
The 50-year-old said: “It has always been my dream to coach Singapore. I am not really looking at the length of the contract.
“This opportunity really comes once in a lifetime, and if it’s there for the taking, it’s best that I take it and give it a shot.”
In terms of local-born national football coaches, with the 2013 Malaysian Super League title under his belt, Sundram compares more favourably with the likes of Choo Seng Quee and Jita Singh, who had both guided the Lions to Malaysia Cup wins, than others who have had limited success.
His first assignment will be the AYA Bank Cup held in Yangon, Myanmar from June 3 to 6. This is a friendly quandrangular also featuring the hosts, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
He has also been set a semi-final target in the Suzuki Cup which will be co-hosted by Myanmar and the Philippines in November. From his 23-man national squad, it appears that unlike Stange, Sundram will not base his team selection on age, as he has mixed things up with the inclusion of 35-year-old Tampines Rovers defensive warhorse Noh Rahman, and 21-year-old Hougang United combative midfielder M Anumanthan.
The majority of his squad also have international experience in the form of more than 10 caps, with just two uncapped players in in-form Home United playmaker Azhar Sairudin and the speedy Geylang International forward Amy Recha.
His call-ups are not without contention though.
There were notable omissions in the form of the most prolific local-born S.League player Fareez Farhan who has struck seven times for bottom side Garena Young Lions, and a clutch of players on three goals, including Geylang International duo Faritz Hameed and Stanely Ng, and Home United forward Khairul Nizam.
Sundram also overlooked a host of his former Tampines players such as Stags skipper Mustafic Fahrudin, right back Ismadi Mukhtar, who featured at the last Suzuki Cup and winger Christopher van Huizen, who has chipped in a handful of assists despite limited playing time.
In their place are some out-of-form-or-fitness players such as Warriors centre back Madhu Mohana, Home United utility man Zulfahmi Arifin, Tampines forward Fazrul and the untested Amy.
Nevertheless, the senior players threw their weight behind their new national coach as they looked forward to working with someone who had once led them to club glory.
National skipper Shahril Ishak said: “We are very happy that Coach Sundram has been named the new coach of the Lions. I believe most, if not all, of the national team players have played under him over the past few years.
“I am sure Coach Sundram will use his knowledge to strengthen our capabilities both at the team and individual levels.”
Vice-captain Hariss Harun added: “Coach Sundram is very meticulous and detailed in his planning and together with the support of the FAS management, I am confident that we will be fully prepared for the year-end Suzuki Cup.
“The national team have gained much experience over the past few years and we look forward to working with Coach Sundram to further raise our standards.”
GOALKEEPERS: Hassan Sunny (Army United), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa), Izwan Mahbud (Tampines Rovers)
DEFENDERS: Nazrul Ahmad Nazari (Hougang United), Baihakki Khaizan (Johor Darul Taz’im II), Safuwan Baharudin (PDRM FA), Noh Rahman, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Sujad (all Tampines Rovers), Madhu Mohana (Warriors FC)
MIDFIELDERS: Gabriel Quak (Geylang International), Faris Ramli, Zulfahmi Arifin, Azhar Sairudin (all Home United), M Anumanthan (Hougang United), Hariss Harun (JDT I), Izzdin Shafiq, Yasir Hanapi (both Tampines Rovers)
FORWARDS: Khairul Amri (Garena Young Lions), Amy Recha, Sahil Suhaimi (both Geylang International), Shahril Ishak (JDT II), Fazrul Nawaz (Tampines Rovers)