McMenemy faces stiff credentials test on return

McMenemy faces stiff credentials test on return

A lot has changed since much-travelled Simon McMenemy last coached in the Philippines more than four years ago, when he helped the Azkals become AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finalists for the first time in 2010.

The result was seen as a big breakthrough for a side who were once the region's whipping boys.

Now, after two more Suzuki Cup semi-final appearances, including an impressive tournament under Thomas Dooley last December, the Philippines are South-east Asia's joint top-ranked side with Vietnam (both on No. 132) on the official Fifa list.

After stints in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Maldives, McMenemy is back as manager of a Filipino club side, Loyola Meralco Sparks FC, trying to help them claim the United Football League (UFL) for the first time.

They made a winning start to the UFL season with a 1-0 victory over Team Socceroo last Sunday.

That followed their success in last month's Smart Club National Championships when they defeated defending UFL champions Global FC 2-0 in the final.

It was the first major professional silverware of McMenemy's career.

At Loyola, he's been reunited with the England-born Younghusband brothers, Phil and James, two of his key men from the 2010 Azkals. They are now national heroes, with a combined total of almost one million followers on Twitter.

Football is not yet a major sport in the Philippines but it is making significant inroads into a basketball-mad country, thanks to players who first found their international feet under McMenemy in 2010.

Despite more than half a dozen entries on his footballing resume, McMenemy is only 37 years old. Trim and fit, the former PE student at the University of South Alabama could still easily pass for one of his players.

His return to the Philippines last September was like a homecoming. Despite taking the Philippines to the Suzuki Cup last four in 2010, McMenemy was controversially dismissed soon after, because he did not have the equivalent of a "B" licence, which is the minimum required for a senior tournament in Asia.

"A lot of people are happy to have him back because he was the national coach who had success against all odds and was sacked to the chagrin of many fans," said Philippines football commentator Ryan Fenix.

"He manages to galvanise the team and make the players play for him, whether they are home grown or based abroad."

While McMenemy's return has been greeted with warmth and nostalgia, it will be a short honeymoon period if Loyola are not able to end their drought in the UFL.

"Contending for the title in every competition is minimum requirement for such a big club that can attract better and more quality players," Fenix said.

"Because of the Younghusbands, Loyola will always be one of the more popular teams but they've struggled to win any silverware in the league despite coming close numerous times."

McMenemy has progressed in leaps and bounds since he was an assistant manager in the Sussex County League barely five years ago.

No longer an unknown coach trying his luck in South-east Asia, he is now a seasoned campaigner who will be expected to deliver a first UFL trophy to the Manila giants in his debut season.

Jason Dasey is senior editor of ESPN FC, Singapore's most popular football website, which has launched a South-east Asia edition. Twitter: @ESPNFC

This article was first published on February 13, 2015.
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