Returning Michael Weiss ready to lead Philippines back out of the doldrums

Including interim appointments, the return of Michael Weiss is the 14th coaching change Philippines have made since his first stint in charge ended back in 2014 -- including seven in the past four years. ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images

Hans Michael Weiss is excited to be back at the helm of Philippines and handling the Azkals as they prepare for the Asian qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Weiss was formally introduced on Thursday, a day after the Philippine Football Federation announced his reappointment on social media and nine years after his first stint ended.

"He had one of the most successful, if not the most successful stint, as a coach in the Philippines," PFF president Mariano Araneta said.

"Out of 45 games, we won 50% with 11 draws. That's a good performance. We're glad that he's back and we're glad that he accepted to coach again the Philippine team."

Weiss, who most recently was in charge of Laos at the Southeast Asian Games, said he kept tabs of the Azkals even after he was replaced by Thomas Dooley.

"Me and my family, we never left the Philippines," he said. "We were always here.

"I was always in contact with the people, with the players. I saw every match that I could see. I think when a federation calls you back a second time, it can only be seen positively because you must have done something good in the past.

"We had our ups and downs during my first stint but overall when you look back, it was fantastic.

"We laid the groundwork for (Philippines' maiden appearance at the 2019 AFC) Asian Cup. At the time when I had to leave, we were close to playing the (now-defunct AFC) Challenge Cup. We could have won it."

Weiss took over the Azkals in early 2011, just as football's popularity in the Philippines began to soar after the Azkals' miracle run to the 2010 AFF Championship semifinals.

Under his guidance, the Philippines' FIFA ranking jumped from 159 to 127 before reaching an all-time high of 116 in 2018 under Dooley.

During Weiss' nearly-three-year stint, the Azkals enjoyed unprecedented popularity and reached the AFF Championship semifinals again in 2012. They also fell just short of securing an Asian Cup at the time.

Much has changed since then.

Weiss recalled the good times he had with his former squad, mentioning in particular Phil and James Younghusband, Emelio Caligdong and Aly Borromeo.

While the current team that will play two friendlies next week still lists one of his former charges in goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, most players are new to him.

"The good thing is, I'm close to the staff," Weiss added. "I know the players.

"I think it will be a smooth start. (The) Azkals belong (higher) up, not now in this state. We have quality, and we have to show it. We have to play games regularly."

Weiss hopes to play friendlies in the Middle East in September as well as tap new recruits from Europe, particularly the Bundesliga.

"I'm eager to start, I'm happy to start. But at the end of the day we are here to win games and to push the whole program," he stressed.

"So I'm asking the media, and in particular the fans, to come back to the games, to support us. It might not be the most exciting times, but we want to start it again.

"Hopefully we all can really push forward again. It is important that we secure the games for the September-October window. Then we have to see where are we with the team.

"Where can we make changes in this brief period going to November? The ultimate target is November."

Weiss' appointment hopefully brings stability to the men's national team, which had seen seven different head coaches appointed over the last four years.

The Azkals failed to move past the group stage of the past two editions of the AFF Championship, while their world ranking has slipped to 136.

Asked if he feels any pressure to replicate his success from a decade ago, Weiss demurred: "There's no pressure because I have good players.

"In Mongolia and Laos I also had good players but not compared to here. If you have quality players, it's easier."