LESS than two years ago, V. Sundramoorthy's star could not have shone brighter.
The wily football coach had just won the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL) with the LionsXII, cementing his reputation as one of the most sought-after tacticians in the region.
Instead, the high of that year was followed by a disappointing one-year stint with Negeri Sembilan in Malaysia's second tier, during which he failed to guide the team to promotion when instant success was demanded.
His sojourn across the Causeway ended with an amicable parting of ways last November.
The Dazzler, as he was known in his playing days, is back in Singapore football as coach of five-time S-League champions Tampines Rovers, and he is adamant that his coaching reputation is still intact.
He told The Straits Times at the Stags' pre-season press conference yesterday: "Honestly, I've already been coaching for so long. I have nothing to prove. Everybody knows me, especially here.
"In football there'll always be ups and downs. It's important to stay positive and just move on.
"I'm happy I got the Tampines job. I'm very impressed with the set-up, the chairman has a good vision for the club, and definitely we'll go out to try to win something this season."
Sundram's optimism stems from the squad that club chairman Teo Hock Seng had assembled, which includes seasoned campaigners like captain Fahrudin Mustafic and strikers Noh Alam Shah and Indra Sahdan Daud, as well as foreign signings Predrag Pocuca (Croatia) and Fabrice Noel (Haiti) who have league football experience in Malaysia.
The huge void in goal left by Hassan Sunny has also been filled, with Hougang's Fadhil Salim joining on loan for the season.
Sundram, 49, said: "This is the strongest squad I've been in charge of in my coaching career. There's a good blend of foreign and local players, and the team spirit is very strong.
"My target is to play good, attractive football. If we do that, there is a good chance of winning trophies."
Teo, nicknamed "Teo Hock Sack" for firing coaches if they don't deliver results, has backed him, saying: "We must have coaches who have brains and guts. Tampines players are not easy to win over, but now we have a coach here who they will listen to.
"We are settled, more settled (than before)."
Captain Fahrudin said the team is fully behind Sundram. He said: "He proved that he is one of the best local coaches when he won the MSL with a team of local players. You have to respect that.
"The players are slowly adapting to his style. The team spirit is very strong, I've never seen a team come together so easily before, and we'll do whatever we can to win the title."
Tampines, who will be playing their home matches at the Jurong West Stadium, kick off their season with an away match against Albirex Niigata on March 2.
This article was first published on Feb 13, 2015.
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