Football: Negeri heat up

Football: Negeri heat up
On a roll: Negeri Sembilan, under V Sundramoorthy (above), recorded five straight wins and are now fourth in the Malaysian Premier League.

After nine games with his new club Negeri Sembilan FA, V Sundramoorthy was given an ultimatum.

Start winning or get the sack.

Six games on, Negeri have climbed two spots to fourth in the Malaysian Premier League and are just four points off the top of the 12-team standings.

Speaking to The New Paper recently, the 48-year-old coach said: "Any foreign coach working abroad has to deliver.

"It doesn't matter how well you play, or if the team were unlucky in defeat - it's only about results."

The former Singapore star became one of the hottest coaches in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) after he guided the LionsXII to the title last year.

He attracted a few offers, including a better deal from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to continue as coach of the LionsXII, but Sundram surprised many when he decided to join Negeri in the second-tier MPL.

After a 3-1 home defeat by Penang FA on March 21, Negeri languished in sixth spot, 10 points off second spot.

With only the top two teams gaining promotion to the MSL, team president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said he would revamp the squad and replace Sundram if results didn't improve.

Sundram then led his team to a creditable away draw against league leaders PDRM before notching five wins on the trot.

"The Dazzler" insisted his team's stellar run would have come regardless of the chairman's warning.

"Actually we played one of our best games when we lost to Penang," he said.

"We dominated the second half, but individual errors cost us the game."

Sundram was in town earlier this week during the MPL's three-week break.

Friend and former teammate Fandi Ahmad has taken the reins of the LionsXII and Sundram admitted he's been following the team's progress.

"I've watched every game so far. That's all I'm going to say," he said.

Reportedly on a monthly salary of US$20,000 (S$25,000), he has been charged to get Negeri promoted this year.

The club provided funds for him to sign four foreigners, including Cameroonian striker Jean Effa Owona and former Geylang forward Jozef Kaplan of Slovakia.

The two players have since been released - Effa due to a lengthy injury and Kaplan because of poor form.

In their place, Sundram recently signed strikers Ivan Babic of Croatia and Philani of South Africa.

LEARNING CURVE

"As a coach going to a new team, you need time to understand your players and vice versa," Sundram said.

"But time isn't always given, and Malaysian players are very different from the boys in the LionsXII.

"They need to be spoken to differently and I needed to get them familiar with my philosophy, which was very foreign to them."

With eight rounds remaining, and a crucial trip to second-placed Felda on May 9 when the league resumes, the Singaporean is confident Negeri can finish in the top two.

"I believe we have turned the corner and the players are growing in confidence," he said.

"Otherwise, there's always the Malaysia Cup (the top four in the MPL qualify for the storied competition), where you might see me at the Jalan Besar Stadium against the LionsXII."

This article was published on April 24 in The New Paper.

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