BACKGROUND Simon McMenemy: After learning his craft in England, Simon McMenemy found himself in the global spotlight when he guided the Philippines to the semi-final stage of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup - Southeast Asia's premier competition for national teams. Since then, Simon has coached at club level in both Vietnam and Indonesia. In the first part of this article, we take a detailed look at this amiable Englishman's career before the 2010 Azkals sensation.
First of all Simon, what have you been doing since you left your position as Philippines coach in early 2011?
Once I left the Philippines I had a number of offers from clubs across Southeast Asia. After due consideration I decided to join V-League team Dong Tam Long An, from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, having been promised that this prestigious club where trying to challenge for the title. This was not the case, a lack of funds and an already precarious league position meant that moving them forward was tough, As I found out I was the third coach (ultimately out of four) that they had during that one season.
After leaving, I signed with Mitra Kukar in the Indonesian Super League. Things looked good upon arrival, with top players being added to the squad. This was the first time they had competed at this level and to make things harder, it was a totally new squad. I used contacts I had in the United Kingdom to bring Premier League striker Marcus Bent to Indonesia. Although his goal total was relatively low, we scored in all but one game, home and away, during the first half of the campaign. I thought we were playing well, developing as a team and ready to push into the top three in the second half of the season.
Unfortunately fourth place was not enough for the management. I believe the thought was that with new ideas they may push on and win the league. The management also used my lack of Bahasa Indonesia as an excuse; this would prove to be a somewhat odd reason to give me when they then hired a Swede with zero command of the Indonesian language. Mitra went on to finish ninth. I don't hold any grudges, decisions like this happen.
I enjoyed my time at Mitra and wish them and their amazing fans well. I have since been working for SSI Arsenal based in Jakarta, trying to improve their operation coaching young players across Indonesia, while always keeping the eye out for a new club.
Are you missing the day-to-day involvement?
100% yes. Once you experience the day-to-day involvement that comes with running a football club, it is very difficult to forget. You have to deal with the constant pressure of simply doing the right thing. Did I choose the right team? Did we do enough in training today? Are the boys ready for Saturday? Have we got the right tactics? Have we done the right preparation? If you are professional about your work then I don't believe there is a coach or manager out there that goes home and totally switches off.
During my time with the Philippines, I wouldn't sleep a wink during the night before (Are we ready?) and the night after (What could we have done better?) every single game we played. As much as it is pressure, you learn to live with it, and - as I found - thrive off the excitement. I would watch games from around the world on television and compare random team's tactics to those we had been employing. My head was constantly in the game. As much as that self-imposed pressure becomes a weight that you learn to carry, when that weight is not there - rather ironically - you miss it.
How eager are you to get back into full-time coaching?
I travelled halfway around the world, left all my friends and family, convinced my unbelievably supportive wife to give up her lucrative job and rode the ups and downs of the rollercoaster that is Southeast Asian football to be a full time professional football coach. For me, it's the dream job.
I played to a decent standard but never at an elite level. My only way to be a professional in football was to coach and at 16 I started at the very bottom. Many coaches get a helping hand in landing their first position due to the fact that they played 500 games for a known professional club and go on to a career of coaching that was only ever seen as a second option due to their "career ending injury" or simply being too old to play. I didn't have the luxury of having a long professional career.
When I started at the bottom I was coaching five-seven year olds at a local primary school. I believe that this is what makes me more motivated to succeed than coaches who have seen coaching as a second option after playing. I don't believe for a second that just because you have played, you know more about the game than someone who has not played at an elite level.
As we are starting to see, there are those that understand the game without having played to a high standard themselves - Roy Hodgson, (current England manager) Andre Villas Boas (Tottenham) or Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool) for example. I am not attempting to arrogantly compare myself with these guys; I am simply saying that I am highly motivated to prove myself every time I set foot on a training pitch against other coaches who do have those 500 games at a professional club on their Wikipedia page.
Would you therefore, for example, be interested in coaching the Singapore national team, a role which we believe will become available in January?
As far as the Singapore national team is concerned, needless to say I would love an opportunity to take the team on from the work that current coach Radojko (Raddy) Avramovic has achieved. I met him during the 2010 Suzuki Cup and his professionalism, especially compared to that of his Vietnamese counterpart, impressed me greatly.
As with other national teams in Southeast Asia, there are always problems, but the opportunity to represent Singapore, to work with such a talented group of players and to follow on from a fantastic coach that I greatly respect would be nothing short of an honour.
Talking of international roles, how much did you enjoy your time with the Philippines?
In all honesty, it is very difficult to put it all into words. That job was the single greatest experience of my life. Representing a country is an amazingly inspiring position. Knowing that a nation is watching your every move is motivation enough to be the best you possibly can be. I was new to that level and yes, it was a huge learning curve but I treated it with the professionalism, effort and motivation that the position deserved.
I applied simple knowledge and common sense to a subject that is often clouded in over thinking and 'tinkering'. I was responsible for all the coaching, the tactics, and the team selections. In terms of my responsibility, I believe I did my job better than anyone thought I could. I am not saying that 2010 was down to me. I am saying that I did my job to the best of my abilities - the players took over once the whistle blew. They are the heroes and I loved every second of watching them succeed.
How did you come to land the job with the Azkals? Were you ever, at any point, overawed by the task that lay ahead of you?
I think mainly it was being in the right place at the right time. I was on Facebook speaking to a player that I had worked with at a previous club who was also a member of the national team. He mentioned that the Philippines were looking for a coach and that I should throw my CV in and see what happens. I laughed it off but sent it in none the less. Five weeks later I got a phone call. A week later I was offered the job, 10 days on from that I upped sticks and moved to Manila.
I think due to the hurried nature of my arrival and the schedule of upcoming games, I never really had the chance to sit down and think about the task I was about to start. Upon being met at the airport after a 16-hour flight, I was taken straight to training. That was a sign of the speed at which this preparation period would begin. I started coaching the squad 24 hours later.
I do remember a moment of reflection as I was walking on the pitch in the Gelora Bung Karno stadium just before the start of the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final first leg against Indonesia. 90,000 fans crammed into a cauldron of noise. I remember thinking back to how we had got here, what my friends were doing at home, and how I could do this for the rest of my life.
The Philippines was certainly a sink or swim situation, fortunately I'd packed my water wings.