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 By John Duerden

British coach Simon McMenemy defies the odds to go top of table in Indonesia

ESPN FC's Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson discuss Simon McMenemy's success at Bhayangkara FC.

The international headlines written about the Indonesian Liga 1 at the start of the 2017 season focused on marquee signings such as Michael Essien and Didier Zokora. At the end, they may be all about Simon McMenemy.

The British coach has taken unfashionable Bhayangkara to the top of the 18-team table, with just one third of the season remaining. The dream is on, though the 39-year-old is trying his best his players focused.

"Everyone is getting excited, but it is my job to keep the players grounded, " McMenemy told ESPN FC.

That is getting more difficult after results like last weekend's last-minute win against title rivals Persipura. He said: "We dominated that game. I had so many comments from social media. People are taking us seriously as if we can beat them, who can't we beat?"

Persipura are one of the big boys, giants of the local game along with the likes of Persib Bandung, Arema and Persija. Bhayangkara, a new club owned by the police, don't have such history, stature or support. Home games are often played in front of three or four thousand spectators.

"We don't have many fans, even when we play at home. We don't have 30,000 fans at home and then go and play away but that can help as home and away games can seem the same," McMenemy said.

"It must be incredible to play in front of 30,000, but there is pressure that comes with that."

There is pressure for the former Philippines boss, just of a different kind. "The head policeman in the country just knows whether we win or lose. There is no context as to how we are playing or performing," he said.

With a top-five target handed out, shipping out star striker Thiago was a vital, if risky, step. In came Paulo Sergio, a Portuguese goal getter from Brunei DPMM who play in Singapore's S.League.

"I phoned Steve Kean and he told me that he was fantastic and I had to take him," McMenemy said.

"We also brought in some young players, and it just clicked."

A player who makes fewer headlines is Lee Yoo-Joon, the South Korean who has missed just one game all year.

Philippines coach Simon McMenemy
Simon McMenemy, left, says seasoned imports and young players have helped Bhayangkara click this season.

"He is brilliant. He goes under the radar and is the best defensive midfielder in the league. He is quiet and not interested in headlines but is fantastic in every game."

It is not just about the imports. Evan Dimas is one of the biggest local stars, and has returned to the club after his exploits with the under-22 team during last month's Southeast Asian Games. The young playmaker came off the bench on the second half to help Bhayangkara to the win over Persipura.

It shows the competition for places and the confidence that The Guardian, who have won eight and lost just one of their last 10, have at the moment.

"By no means does Evan walk straight to the team. We have been playing well and there was no reason to change just because he is back. We have been winning without him," McMenemy said.

So much so that the team has a genuine chance of the title. Without the resources of the bigger teams, this could be a case of now or never in terms of winning the big prize.

"I don't want to say that we Leicester, but we are similar," McMenemy explained. "The year after Leicester were not as good as there were no surprises any more. Teams are more interested in stopping us rather than trying to beat us. It is a compliment. Next year will be different and we can't compete in the transfer market with the bigger clubs."

At the moment, the boss is taking it game-by-game and ensuring the players stayed focused: "The official target is top five. I would like top three.

Philippines coach Simon McMenemy
Simon McMenemy made his name when he helped then-minnows Philippines make the semfinals of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

"We are not talking about the league, but for me personally, it would be a huge boost in my career, possibly into different leagues, who knows?

"Lots of things in Indonesia can trip you up. The bigger teams invest lots of money and there can be a lot of pressure. I won't be surprised if some funny results come up."

It hasn't happened yet. The season has been a competitive one. With eleven games remaining, it looks to be between Bhayangkara, Bali United, PSM and Persipura though Madura United and Persija are still in with an outside chance.

"My assistant told me about a Whatsapp group for all the local coaches," McMenemy said. "They are all rooting for Bali United to win the league as they have a local in charge. So you just have to work extra hard."

Despite such exertions. Simon McMenemy is staying relaxed. Being in a title race is a good position to be in: "I am not letting this get to me. Privately, I sleep like a baby and that is something I don't normally do as a coach."

John Duerden covers Asian football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.

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