14 March 17 The Straits Times by WANG MENG MENG
In a sign that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is already looking to long-term planning even before elections can take place, it has extended both the contracts for technical director Michel Sablon and national coach V. Sundramoorthy by two years.
Appointed initially as national caretaker coach last May on a one-year deal, Sundram has received a vote of confidence despite a tough start to his tenure.
Given a semi-final target, the Lions crashed out of last November's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in the group stage after one draw and two defeats.
However in a statement issued last night, Lim Kia Tong, president of the FAS' provisional council, explained: "Despite Sundram not achieving the target of a semi-final berth at the AFF Cup, we believe he should be given another chance to prove himself.
"We will support Sundram fully and we expect the Lions to secure a top-two placing in Group E of the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup 2019 final round qualifiers and qualify for Asian Cup 2019."
As a Singaporean, it's an honour to coach the national team and I am very happy to have extended my contract.
V. SUNDRAMOORTHY, national football coach, on lengthening his stay with the Lions.
The 51-year-old Sundram said: "Since my appointment last May, the FAS council and management have been extremely supportive and I'm deeply grateful for their trust and confidence in me.
"As a Singaporean, it's an honour to coach the national team and I am very happy to have extended my contract. I am determined to lead our Lions to success during the Asian Cup 2019 qualifying campaign."
Singapore had been given a reasonable draw in the Asian Cup qualifiers and will face Bahrain, Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei in Group E. The world No. 163 Lions travel to Bahrain for the first game on March 28.
Singapore have played in the Finals just once, as hosts in 1984.
Lim praised Sablon for "working relentlessly to further improve our footballing standards" since his arrival two years ago.
The 69-year-old Belgian was credited for grooming a generation of Belgian stars like Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne. He has been tasked to revitalise grassroots and youth football as well as developing more local coaches here.
Lim said: "Almost a year on, we have achieved good progress in these areas, including coach education and a revamp of youth competitions, among others.
"It will be a long but rewarding journey as we strive to further enhance the standards of Singapore football, and we are very pleased to have extended the contract of Michel - who is undoubtedly one of the best technical directors in the world."
Sablon, whose original contract was to expire this month, expressed his delight to continue his long-term project of producing the next generation of national players.
"It is important to me that I'm working with a quality and fully supportive management team which shares the same vision and long-term targets.
"I am very happy to have signed an extension to my contract which will also allow me to continue this long-term project which we started just two years ago."
The decision to secure the futures of Sundram and Sablon comes at a time of uncertainty for the FAS. The association is due to call an election by May, with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth last week urging the FAS to do so as soon as possible.
A seasoned observer expressed his surprise at news of the contract extensions, with many expecting the incoming football chief to make the decision.
He said: "I like Sundram as a coach and Sablon has lots of experience to pass on. But the timing of the announcement is a big surprise.
"Isn't the interim council supposed to be focused on ensuring that the elections be conducted before the May deadline?
"Maybe the provisional council is already confident ahead of the elections."