Tributes for former top Asian football official Velappan

Peter Velappan was Asian Football Confederation general secretary for 29 years

Tributes have poured in after the death of Peter Velappan, a former top Asian football official who was credited with helping transform the game in the region.

The Malaysian, who died Saturday at the age of 83, was Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary for 29 years.

His was an important position at a time of rapid expansion for football in Asia, and he was for many years the face of the game in the region, serving under three different AFC presidents.

He had a shoot from the hip style that delighted journalists -- but landed him in trouble on more than one occasion.

AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa led the tributes to Velappan, hailing him as "one of the most important architects of growing the game in Asia".

"Peter served Asian football with passion and professionalism and the news of his passing will shock and sadden all those who are involved in our great game on this continent.

"He deserves immense credit for everything that he achieved with the AFC and beyond."

Windsor John, current AFC general secretary, added that Velappan's "vision for Asian football has been an inspiration to us all and his achievements both here at the AFC and at the Football Association of Malaysia stand as a monument to his love of the game".

Born in 1935, Velappan studied in Britain and Canada before becoming a teacher in Malaysia. He became assistant general secretary of the Football Association of Malaysia in 1963.

He was also assistant manager to the national team when it qualified for the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Velappan became AFC general secretary in 1978, a role he held until retiring 2007.

Among his achievements were helping secure the 2002 World Cup for co-hosts Japan and South Korea, the first time the tournament was held in Asia.

But the outspoken official regularly ruffled feathers.

At the 2004 Asian Cup finals in Beijing, he was forced to apologise for blasting Chinese fans and questioning whether Beijing should host the 2008 Olympics.

And in 2006, he called Southeast Asian football chiefs unprofessional and blamed FIFA for not training them properly -- prompting senior football officials from the region to fire off a letter to then FIFA president Sepp Blatter.