Interviews

FFT SEA Awards: Coach of the Year honour caps off an emotional journey to Java

When Simon McMenemy told his wife he had been named FourFourTwo’s Southeast Asian Coach of the Year in our inaugural football awards, she burst into tears. Not perhaps the expected reaction, but last season was nothing if not emotional for the well-travelled couple.

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“After some of the ups and downs and things I have had to put up with, it is an achievement that I am very proud of,” McMenemy told FourFourTwo.

“You have to go through a lot to sustain a career in this region. To be given this award by such a prestigious media company like FourFourTwo is a proud moment.”

We just kept pushing as hard as we could and the results kept coming. We got close to the wire and I started to think ‘we might just do it’

- Simon McMenemy

This particular journey to individual success started in December 2016 as the British boss arrived in West Java to take over Bhayangkara, a team that had come into existence only the year before following a merger.

By November 2017, they were champions of Indonesia’s top-flight competition.

“My official target was top five, they had finished eighth the season before,” McMenemy recalls. “We just kept pushing as hard as we could and the results kept coming.

“We got close to the wire and I started to think ‘we might just do it’.”

Backed by the police, Bhayangkara pull in small crowds of just three or four thousand to their home games, while giants such as Persib Bandung can draw 10 times more.

But the 40-year-old McMenemy is not convinced this is automatically a negative.

“Big crowds can be a double-edged sword. As a coach, we don’t have many fans so our ground is less intimidating.

I will always go for the points even though sometimes you have to get bodies behind the ball when you play away

“Other teams come and think they will walk it but then we beat them. There was not much difference for us playing at home or away, it was the same.”

What was unusual about the title win was that the Guardians lost 10 out of their 34 games, drawing just two.

“I will always go for the points even though sometimes you have to get bodies behind the ball when you play away,” the coach said.

“At home, we always try to go for it. Our biggest loss was 3-0 at Borneo. We were losing 1-0 until late, I changed things around and we were caught.

“We scored the most goals in the final 10 minutes of games, we were always trying to score.”

In the final weeks of the season, the title race became one of the best around with five teams in the hunt before it came down to PSM, Bali and Bhayangkara.

I can remember celebrating in the restaurant near my home when Persiba beat Bali. All the other customers were celebrating along with me

It was intense.

“As a coach, you have to portray this image of coolness, but watching other games is tough,” he said.

“My heart was going 10 to the dozen every time rivals went near the ball.

“I can remember celebrating in the restaurant near my home when Persiba beat Bali. All the other customers knew who I was and why I was celebrating and they were celebrating along with me.”

Then it was down to two, but the drama was only set to increase.

[NEXT: Red cards and red tape threaten to ruin Bhayangkara's dream]