Football: No, there can only be one

Football: No, there can only be one
PHOTO: The Straits Times, The New Paper

They set pulses racing among football-crazy Singaporeans when they played together for the country, a dream attacking combination capable of unsettling many defences on the continent.

Now, there is a possibility Fandi Ahmad and V Sundramoorthy, two of Singapore's all-time greats, could lead the national team as co-coaches.

Current Singapore coach Bernd Stange's contract is understood to be up at the end of September and the two local coaches are among the front-runners to take over, should the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) choose not to extend the German's tenure.

Sundram and Fandi both have expressed their desire to take on the national job, but the prospect of the duo handling the role together is an intriguing one.

The formula of Stange as head coach and the local duo as assistants proved successful last month, when the Lions kicked off their 2018 World Cup qualifiers with a bang, thumping Cambodia 4-0 on June 11 in Phnom Penh, before holding Asian giants Japan to a shock 0-0 in Saitama five days later.

The FAS is likely to stick to the arrangement for Singapore's next qualifier, against Syria in Muscat on Sept 3.

Most football brains The New Paper spoke to, however, don't seem convinced a co-coaching system will work.

Barry Whitbread, who was national coach from 1995 to 1998, said: "I really would rule out putting them together.

"I know both of them, they were terrific players and are good people, but as coaches, they will have their opinions.

"They can't both be in charge.

"And I don't think it can work with one as head coach and the other as assistant, either."

The Englishman, who now does player assessment for England's youth teams and previously worked at Liverpool, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, led the Lions to their first international trophy, the 1998 Tiger Cup.

He hopes the FAS picks one and backs whoever it is to the hilt.

"They'll have to go with one or the other," said Whitbread.

"And they can't just chop and change. They have to give the man they pick time to develop.

"They have both coached at reasonably high levels, and been successful. Their qualifications and experience are also almost similar.

"It would be very difficult to select one without upsetting the other."

Fandi, 53, currently helms the LionsXII team playing in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) and led the side to the Malaysian FA Cup in May.

Sundram, four years younger, is coaching Tampines Rovers in the S.League.

His stock rose tremendously after he led the LionsXII to the MSL title in 2013.

Malaysia Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee agreed with Whitbread's assessment.

The 44-year-old, who led Malaysia to the South-east Asia (SEA) Games football gold medal in 2011, believes every coach wants to be able to call the shots.

"I don't believe in having two head coaches," said Ong. "Every coach has his own ego - in terms of what he wants to do with the team and how.

"No matter how close (two coaches) are, it's difficult."

After the Syria clash, the Lions will play four consecutive World Cup qualifiers at home - Afghanistan (Oct 8), Cambodia (Oct 13), Japan (Nov 12) and Syria (Nov 17).

If Stange's contract is not extended, the FAS could go with Fandi and Sundram as interim co-coaches before they make a final decision on one of them, or appoint another foreign expert.

No go

Former Singapore captain Seak Poh Leong also feels the co-coaches idea will not work.

"If Stange leaves, it's nice to know a local coach could be in line to take over," said Seak, who was also FAS technical director from 1985 to 1991.

"Fandi and Sundram have proven themselves with their achievements, but I think the FAS will have to choose between them.

"Whether it is the right or wrong choice, is another matter.

"It's very difficult, in terms of decision making especially, to have two co-coaches.

"When the team win, who's responsible? When it loses?

"Pick one, and let the results decide if he is the right choice. If not, the other can be given the chance.

"There must be one boss."

This article was first published on July 28, 2015.
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