And as general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), even the International Football Federation (Fifa) sought his counsel.
But Dato Peter Velappan always had his feet on the ground, always abiding by what his mum said before he first jetted off to England in August 1955: "You came to this world with nothing and you will leave the same way. Make good friends."
In his autobiography, launched in Malaysia last month, and yesterday at the Singapore Indian Association, Velappan says: "Throughout my life, this advice has been my guiding light.
"I respect friends and treasure their friendship. It is friends in high and influential positions who have helped me along my professional career in different and varied jobs. "Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a good job, good income, happy family, good friends and good health.
"For every person in the 'comfort zone', there are hundreds who are not. "That is why I always respect other people, whatever be their standing in society. I always wear a friendly smile whenever I meet people."
That infectious smile of the 79-year-old is seen in many chapters of the 334-page book, and was witnessed by a select group of 50 Singaporeans (all of whom have been involved in local football either as administrators, players, coaches or referees) yesterday.
Titled "Beyond Dreams", the book traces the fascinating story of a scrawny kid, born in a rubber plantation in Siliau Estate (Negri Sembilan), who worked his way (no doubt with the support of a few "godfathers" mentioned in the book) to become a top football administrator as Football Association of Malaysia's (FAM) assistant secretary (1963-1978), AFC's secretary general and a Fifa committee member (1978-2008).
And to think that he started his education on the rubber estate in a Tamil school, picked up English only when he 11, trained as a teacher in England, worked as a director at the Malaysian Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports and was personnel director at Lever Brothers, before taking up the key football appointment. It was a successful journey for the god-fearing Velappan.
On his major appointment, Velappan said: "I decided to leave the government after 17 years of service. But to do what? Service to football was an honorary job!
"I went to play golf at the National Subang Golf Club one Saturday and met the personnel director of Lever Brothers. He asked me to look out for a personnel manager for the company.
"After obtaining the reluctant approval of Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia's second Prime Minister who was also the president of FAM for a brief period after Tunku (Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's first PM), I applied for the job and got it."
But Tunku decided to retire from the AFC and suggested that I should become fulltime secretary-general of the AFC...After 10 years, I decided to leave Lever Brothers to devote all my time to AFC."
The father of two daughters then built a name for himself and his defining moment came when Fifa appointed him as coordination director of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
The book also gives insights into the decline of Malaysian football, the bitter tussle for AFC leadership, betting, bribery and corruption in Asian football, and some of his perceptions and philosophies.
He also warns that "the beautiful game" is now wracked by match-fixing, rampant human trafficking, racism and the threat from technology that drives kids away from football towards computer games.
The footballer-cum-sprinter-cum hockey player in his school days ends by saying that he enjoyed a "blessed journey" because he had a vision beyond dreams.
This article was first published on November 24, 2014.
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