Architect behind Azkals' miracle recalls backstories behind his short, yet game-changing tenure

  • Jun 25, 2020

Ten years on, Simon Mcmenemy is still regarded as a legend in Philippine football.

The mastermind of the Miracle of Hanoi in 2010 could not hold back his emotions and told the little things that he made that made the Azkals' upset of then-ASEAN champions Vietnam in a match that changed the sport for the better.

As he took over from Des Bulpin in August for his managerial debut, Mcmenemy had an unwavering faith with the team, which has a mix of Armed Forces veterans like Chieffy Caligdong to big names such as Neil Etheridge and the Younghusband brothers, all of which became household names and inspiration to many footballers of today.

"The thing that I had to do, getting off the plane and using the knowledge I had at the time,"  he said on Rick Olivares' Usapang Football webcast last week.

With time being their foe as the qualifiers, he realize that the Azkals rely on physicality rather than flair and speed as he see on the squad that had huge upsides on going on the counter rather than going more on the ball.

"We knew we had size and strength," he added, as he shifted the team's focus on defense in short notice. "We had the ability to be physical."

That bore fruit in the qualification stage, taking one of the two spots to the main competition as they finished runner up to Laos after both of them had 5 points in three matches. 

The success in the qualifiers was not just about the stroke of luck, as he put emphasis on completely changing the identity of the team from being just a doormat to a contender, something that the Azkals achieved since the Miracle.

"People we’re expecting the Philippines to be rag-tag, underdogs who would just gonna get thumped and then go home. But I wasn’t prepared for us to look like that."

With things such as imposing fines for the little things until the donkey shirt, he put premium on playing with professionalism and with extra effort and bringing positive attitude on the side, things that he still do ever since.

"This was all about, yes the discipline, but also making us look good introducing that little bit of professionalism. These things on here that I still do now, ten years later."

Heading into Hanoi, he admitted that the disrespect by Singapore and Vietnam have fired them up as the topic centered around how many goals those past two champions will score against the Filipinos, who were then been tagged as the doormats of the region.

"Alright, we were the minnows. We weren't suppose to win anything," he said. "But without a doubt, that fired me up, which gave me the motivation to pass that on to the players and send them out on the pitch in the manner that I did."

But he proved them wrong in their opening game in Group B, with Chris Greatwich poking home the last ditch equalizer to share the points with Raddy Avramovic's Lions that displayed their fighting character.

"Well, we had a habit," he then said, referring to their previous situation in Laos for the qualifiers, wherein James Younghusband completed their fightback to get the draw against the home side after being down two goals earlier on. "I knew that in the 94th minute, if a team is gonna score, it’s gonna be us because we’ve done it before."

However, that disrespect turned into a matter of regard later on as far as Avramovic is concerned, with McMenemy even added that the Serbian gaffer had handled the result more gracefully, in contrast to Henrique Calisto's attitude after they were shocked on that cold December evening, with Vietnam being the defending champions.

"To his credit, he said “You deserve the way you guys perform. You deserve to get your point, well done”. "

That 2-0 win over then then-defending champions, he said, was a product of a well-planned approach and the next-man-up mentality that he instilled, with Roel Gener played what was the game of his life being a huge proof.

"That boy is an absolute machine," he said on the Army veteran, who had to replace Chieffy Caligdong in the team sheet in which he was the unsung hero. "He gave everything he had, in a position that he is not really not familiar with."

The Cinderella Azkals eventually made it to the semifinal where their clock struck midnight in Jakarta, but for McMenemy, the four-month stint to open his managerial career was still the one that cherishes the most.

"What they did for the country and how they changed it, it should be quite rightly be celebrated ten years later."