FORMER national captain Datuk M. Chandran, who died yesterday after a long illness at the age of 77, belongs to a generation of players who were both respected and feared in the 1970s.
He was not only one of the best centre-backs in Asia in his heyday but also a great coach, leading his beloved Selangor to several Malaysia Cup titles.
The Perak-born was a talented centre-back who not only perfected the art of defending, thanks to his astute reading ofthe game and burst of speed but was also skilled with the ball.
He captained both the national team (for three years) and Selangor (five years) before calling it a day in 1975.
The greatest moment of his remarkable football career was helping Malaysia qualify for the Olympic Games for the first time in 1972 in Munich.
Chandran and Soh Chin Aun were Malaysia’s pillar of defence then. The team did not concede a goal in the final round of the Olympic qualifiers in 1971.
Malaysia were then among the most feared teams in Asia and they were unstoppable in the qualifiers with wins over South Korea (1-0), Japan (3-0), China (3-0) and the Philippines (5-0), thanks mainly to Chandran’s leadership in inspiring his team to fight hard and seal the country’s first-ever Olympic berth.
“We had to play the strongest teams — Japan and South Korea — in the first two matches. Both teams were powerful in attack. “Despite the challenge, we knew our strengths. I had formed a strong partnership in defence with my senior, Chandran. Together we were near invincible
“Our disciplined defence was solid as we kept clean sheets in all of our group matches,” said Chandran’s defensive partner, Chin Aun inarecent interview.
Coached by Jalil Che Din, Chandran led the national team from the dugout of a packed Olympic Stadium in Munich against hosts Germany in their first-ever match at the Olympics.
The Malaysians held the mighty Germans in the first half before conceding three goals after the breather.
In the next match, Malaysia recorded their first victory in Munich by hammering the United States 3-0.
With a chance to qualify for the next round, Malaysia, however, were thrashed 6-0 by African side Morocco in their final group game.
The national team then comprised Namat Abdullah, Chandran, Othman Abdullah, Chin Aun, Khoo Huan Khen, Hamzah Hussain, Shahruddin Abdullah, Wan Zawawi Wan Yusof, V. Krishnasami, Ibrahim Salleh, Harun Jusoh, Wong Kam Fook, Ali Bakar, Lim Fung Kee, Wong Choon Wah, Mohammed Bakar, Rahim Abdullah, Looi Loon Teik and Bahwandi Hiralal.
Born in Sungai Siput, Chandran started playing with Selangor Indian Association before he was called up for Selangor.
His rise, from there on, was rapid as he established himself in both the Selangor and Malaysia teams as a steely and tough-tackling centre-back.
Chandran’s impressive show on the international stage earned him a spot in the 1968 Asian AllStars team that played against Premier League side Arsenal.
Aside from captaining the national team a t the Munich Olympics, Chandran also played an instrumental role in Malaysia’s bronze medal feat at the 1974 Tehran Asian Games.
He also led Malaysia to podium finishes in the 1969, 1971 and 1973 Seap Games.
After retiring as a player, Chandran turned to coaching and proved to be a no-nonsense and astute tactician.
Though he guided Selangor to a number of Malaysia Cup title triumphs, Chandran was less successful as a national coach in 1982 and 1988.
He was co-opted into the FA of Malaysia’s technical committee and also served in Fifa’s development office in Kuala Lumpur.
For his services to football, Chandran was bestowed a datukship by the late Sultan of Pahang and former AFC president Sultan Ahmad Shah in 2000.
He was also honoured with a datukship by the Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah in 2010.
Chandran was cremated yesterday at the Sentul Cremation Ground in Kuala Lumpur.
The football legend leaves behind wife Datin A. Pushpalatha, and two sons aged 36 and 38.