The Singapore legend recently returned to take charge of the LionsXII and emphasised the need to develop players for the national team at the pre-season press conferenceWhen Fandi Ahmad put pen to paper on a three-year contract to take charge of the LionsXII in December last year, it was a moment many local football supporters were waiting for.
It heralded the return of Singapore's favorite footballing son, who was finally coming home after being excluded from the national set-up since 2006.
The cheers that greeted Fandi as he made his speech at the pre-season press conference for the 2014 Malaysian Super League (MSL) on Tuesday afternoon were no surprise, as was the warm applause.
"After seven years in 'exile', I’m back and I hope to give back what you’ve given me - that’s very important to me," he declared.
The 51-year-old worked as the national team's assistant coach in 1999, before guiding SAFFC (now Warriors FC) to the 2000 and 2002 S.League titles. Fandi then coached the Young Lions from 2003 to 2006, while also serving as assistant in Singapore's victorious 2005 Tiger Cup campaign. A four-year stint at Indonesian side Pelita Jaya was then followed by a one-season spell at MSL team Johor Darul Takzim in 2013.
When V. Sundramoorthy left the LionsXII in October after winning the 2013 MSL title, many clamoured for the Football Association of Singapore to bring Fandi back.
And while Fandi, who will be assisted by former Lions captain Nazri Nasir, acknowledged that a top-three finish is the target, he believes in a longer-term objective.
"We targeted a top-three finish but that’s not the most important thing because I know everybody wants results," he explained.
"The top three is achievable, but I believe we have to produce more players for the national team because they are talented players but they haven’t realised their true potential... We need to bring up to the next level.
"At this moment in time, we have 12 players from the SEA Games squad and about eight have played five, 10 or 15 international matches, Which is very good because in the long term, we want to qualify for the Asian Cup finals. So it is very important that we are in the MSL because it gives us more challenges to bring this team to a higher level."
Fandi is also undaunted by the task of filling Sundram's shoes despite senior stalwarts like Hariss Harun, Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khaizan moving on.
"Everybody is trying to see if this team can go far; having lost about five of the senior players, there are suitable replacements," he asserted.
"Even though they are young, they are very energetic and disciplined. They showed a lot of character in the three [pre-season] matches we played in Indonesia.
"It wont be easy, but sometimes in football you need a lot of luck. But the best luck is to create our own future by not expecting other people to do us any favours. We have to work hard on it and try to win every game we play."