Trust Sundram with a longer Lions contract

If the Singaporean really has been offered just a one-year deal, then it suggests the prejudice against local coaches remains, argues NEIL HUMPHREYS 

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Rafa Benitez will never be warmly remembered at Chelsea.

Despite winning the Europa League, the Spaniard falls somewhere between Luiz Felipe Scolari and a boil that can’t be lanced among blinkered Blues followers.

His longstanding connection with Liverpool and those European victories against Chelsea didn’t help, but the clue was in the title.

He was the “interim” manager, a stopgap, a Band-Aid, a temporary tourniquet to stop the bleeding. He was neither here nor there.

It’s the same with kindergarten kids and relief teachers. They smell weakness, the lack of real authority and the absence of trust in the individual. The kids go straight for the jugular. They know a weak link when they see one.

According to reports, V Sundramoorthy is poised to become an awkward coaching hybrid, a cross between Benitez at the Bridge and the relief teacher in class.

He has authority, but it’s already on a timer. He has trust, but not enough. He is about to become Singapore’s national coach, but only on a one-year contract.

He’s essentially a probationary intern in shiny blue boots.

If the current Tampines Rovers coach does indeed sign a one-year deal, then he deserves better and so does Singapore football. He’s either fully trusted to rebuild the dilapidated squad left behind by Bernd Stange or he isn’t.

Apart from being the most technically gifted footballer of his generation, the 50-year-old has also patrolled the dugouts at Jurong, the National Football Academy, the Young Lions, LionsXII, Negeri Sembilan and Tampines. He’s familiar with both domestic talent and regional opposition.

The LionsXII won the 2013 MSL title under Sundram

A one-year trial period might have been warranted in the case of Stange, who needed time to familiarise himself with certain aspects of the game, such as the opponents’ penalty box (the German never quite managed the latter.)

But he was awarded a three-year contract, despite having no previous experience of Southeast Asian football or the philosophy of predecessor Raddy Avramovic (which, in essence, involved picking the best available players, regardless of age and background and winning stuff).

Avramovic’s first contract was two and a half years, giving him adequate time to wake the sleeping Lions from their protracted slumber under Jan Poulsen.

But Sundram has reportedly been offered just a year, which comes across as a begrudging, even patronising, vote of confidence before he starts.

Raddy Avramovic was given ample time to prove himself

The unavoidable suggestion that he must prove himself first points to the inherent inferiority complex that continues to hinder the national game.

Sundram must surely represent less of a risk than Stange, who often had the air of a lost traveller stranded in a foreign land, holding a map upside down and asking strangers for directions back to the airport.

Stange’s tenure was affected by a subconscious rejection of Singapore’s reality. He took a normative view, forever stressing what footballers, administrators and even media commentators needed to do to lift their game and improve their performance. But he was short on empirical analysis; i.e. this is what’s wrong with the game and this is how we fix it.

In the end, far too much energy was expended telling Singaporeans what they already knew. The Lions were light years behind the rest of the continent.

And yet, Stange’s critical stance was tolerated. He was a westerner so he must be right and was allowed to limp on for three years, despite an obvious lack of progress on the pitch. From an aesthetic perspective at least, the Lions regressed.

Sundram worked with former national team head coach Bernd Stange

And still, he was allowed to see out his contract, whereas Sundram reportedly gets offered a year, despite his acute understanding of the challenges faced.

Dietary requirements; religious sensitivities; the state of youth academies and playing surfaces; the shortage of qualified coaches; the lack of Chinese players; the different languages spoken on a training field; the sport versus study dilemma; national service and lingering apathy towards the S.League, Sundram has worked within these constraints for more than a decade.

Unlike his foreign predecessors, he doesn’t require a crash course in these uniquely Singaporean drawbacks. He could teach the course.

But the psychological caveat remains. He’s local. Therefore, he must be somehow inferior or substandard.

Only one out of three foreign coaches in the last 16 years has achieved any kind of silverware success and yet the stubborn stereotype endures.

Sundram is Singaporean. He cannot make it.

If the reported contract really is just one year, then both parties would be wise to offer an explanation and give reasons why Sundram’s appointment is viewed only as a short-term option or, more worryingly, he must complete a probationary period first to satisfy his employers.

Whatever the terms of contract, most managers are always one dreadful run of results or one wretched tournament away from an early exit. A limited shelf life comes with the inflexible job description.

So Sundram’s proposed deal smacks of caution and uncertainty, hinting at that unshakeable prejudice when it comes to the hiring of talent in Singapore.

Local is good. But foreign is better.

Only Sundram can prove otherwise of course, but he’d better be quick about it. He’s only got 12 months.