Football, they say, is a results' business, and the buck stops with the head coach. Which is why Malaysia's Nelo Vingada and Singapore's V. Sundramoorthy must be held accountable if their respective nations don't make it to the 2019 Asian Cup.
Their campaigns haven't begun well. Despite four of their five qualifiers so far being at home, neither nation has registered a victory to leave them both behind the eight-ball on the road to United Arab Emirates.
Vingada, a Portuguese import who came with a big reputation, will be feeling the pressure more than home-grown Sundramoorthy. The latter is not noticeably worse that Bernd Stange, the big-talking German whom he replaced two years ago.
The man known as Sundram has overseen improved performances in his last two games -- a come-from-behind 1-1 draw against Hong Kong in a friendly on Aug. 31 before an identical result in the Asian Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan on Sept. 5. The Lions will now face two difficult matches against Turkmenistan (Oct. 10, away) and group leaders Bahrain (Nov. 14, home).
As for Vingada, the former assistant of super-coach Carlos Queiroz was within a whisker of losing his fourth consecutive match to begin his tenure on Sept. 5. That was until goalkeeper Hafizul Hakim saved his blushes with an added-time penalty save to salvage a 1-1 home draw against Hong Kong in their second qualifier, having lost their Group B opener 2-1 to Lebanon in Johor Bahru in June.
Everyone seems to be singing the praises of the affable 64-year-old -- from the nation's Crown Prince football president to senior players from Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim who came out of retirement to play for him -- but the wins simply haven't come. They also lost friendlies to Syria and Myanmar.
And his miserable run has coincided with the man he replaced delighting the nation at the recent Southeast Asian (SEA) Games on home soil. Ong Kim Swee, who was pushed aside in March to make way for a foreign boss, oversaw five wins in six matches as the Malaysia under-22 side picked up the men's football silver medal.
They might have won the gold had goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli not made a gaffe from a routine corner to concede the only goal in the 1-0 defeat to defending champions, Thailand, in the final on Aug. 29.
During the tournament, the Young Tigers played exciting football, delighting packed houses at Shah Alam Stadium, and all under the watchful eye of Ong, who rebuilt his reputation over the course of a fortnight. Since taking over an unloved and neglected U22 side in the middle of the year, Ong has an impressive winning rate of 80 percent in official matches.
Vingada will be hoping to produce the same kind of magic with the senior team, but the odds are stacked against him.
Next stop? Pyongyang, and a qualifier against North Korea on Oct. 5 in a match that seems likely to go ahead after twice being postponed due to security concerns after strained diplomatic relations between the nations.
Apart from the fact that Pyongyang may not be the most appealing destination at the moment, North Korea will be tough to beat, having lost only one of their last seven matches, and that was away to the Southeast Asian champions, Thailand.
And with road trip to Hong Kong to follow five days later on Oct. 10, Malaysia's qualifying campaign could be effectively over if they fail to collect at least one victory in their travels. Only the top two nations from the four-team group will advance to the tournament in the U.A.E. in 16 months' time.
In 2015, Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) said that failure to qualify for the expanded tournament -- there will be 24 teams instead of 16 for the first time -- would be a "disaster".
So, surely, if Vingada is unable to achieve that goal, he should be removed when the qualification process is complete at the end of March. He could be replaced by a deserving home-based coach, like his assistant Tan Cheng Hoe, Bojan Hodak -- the Croatian has lived in the region for 20 years and now oversees the Malaysia U19s -- or even the revitalised Ong, who could bring through some of the SEA Games players to senior level.
No doubt, different excuses will continue to be offered for the lack of success under Vingada. Malaysia's players, we were told, were fatigued from the fasting month when they faded in the last 10 minutes to lose at home to Lebanon. And fingers were pointed at Australian referee Chris Beath, who handed out two late red cards as nine-man Malaysia failed to put away Hong Kong in Malacca.
Vingada has been given all the support in terms of player availability and extended national camps that wasn't afforded to his predecessor. And yet the results have got even worse. But we're told by his players that he is doing a wonderful job, and just needs more time before the results will come.
But by then, Malaysia could be merely playing for pride at the tail end of the Asian Cup qualifying campaign, and already looking ahead to the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup.
If that's the case, then one of the locally-based coaches within the Malaysian system -- Tan, Hodak, or Ong -- should be bumped up to the top job by the cash-strapped FAM.