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Thursday, February 15, 2018

 

Is Indonesian Football Capable Of Meaningful Change?

Football clubs have been planning for the 2018 Liga 1 season since December, paying salaries, signing players, booking hotels, playing for flights, yet we are still none the wiser of the format of the new season. When will it start? Who are the sponsors? Will Piala Indonesia return? Mystery surrounds all  these questions and more.

The season was due to start 24th February. That was moved to 3rd March. The latest we have is 10th March. We're in the second half of the second month of the year and we are still none the wiser. It's not as if 2018 isn't going to be a busy year. Jakarta, West Java and Palembang are hosting the Asian Games; we have the AFF Suzuki Cup at the end of the year. Nine months to squeeze in 34 rounds of league games, if we have 18 teams in Liga 1, a national cup competition, international friendlies and of course full on internationals? It's a mammoth ask for any organiser.

Even if we have a fixture list released are we sure where teams will play their home games? Persija's Bung Karno Stadium and Sriwijaya's Jakabaring Stadium may not be available for some games as they are needed for the Asian Games. Interestingly Persib can use their GBLA Stadium while other venues in West Java, like Soreang, Cibinong, Bekasi and Cikarang are prepared for the international events.

And what of newly promoted PSMS? Their stadium is undergoing renovations, where will they call home? Some stories suggest Banda Aceh, others Pekanbaru; neither a short bus ride away from their core support in Medan. Persija have been linked with Singaperbangsa Stadium in Karawang. Bhayangkara with PTIK Stadium, more a field with a stand, in Jakarta while PS TNI have renamed themselves PS Tira and moved to Bantul for the season and another newly promoted side, PSIS, have been linked with playing their home games in Sleman or Magelang while Jatidiri gets renovated.

This kind of nonsense of course happens every year, it's just no one seems to be prepared for it.

Instead of being excited about a thrilling new season where we welcome back three of football's great names, PSMS, Persebaya and PSIS, we are left asking questions about the PSSI and the administration of football in the country. Is it true neither Bhayangkara nor Persebaya (Liga 1 and Liga 2 champions respectively) have received their prize money for last season? Is that not embarrassing?

Instead of celebrating the fact so many promising young players are being appreciated overseas and have been offered contracts in Malaysia and Thailand we have a PSSI leadership damning them with feint praise and casting doubts on their patriotic fervour. A PSSI by the way that is now, according to some reports, based in a private house in South Jakarta and whose leader, quick to condemn others for lacking their nationalistic credentials, will be taking a sabbatical from his duties to stand for election in North Sumatra.

Against this backdrop of institutional malaise the clubs are pretty much being left to fend for themselves, hence the number of pre season tournaments which offer the prospect of some cash flow and the chance of winning trophies. Bali United and Persija will meet in the President Cup Final this weekend in Jakarta in front of over 60,000 and such is their determination to succeed they effectively sacrificed their opening group stage games in the AFC Cup to protect key players ahead of the game.

And once the President Cup ends the focus will switch to the island of Kalimantan which will play host to the East Kalimantan Governor's Cup and the Battle of Borneo. It was to accommodate the former the Liga 1 was put back a week. yep, pre season tournaments taking precedence over the domestic season and international competitions.

The slap dash approach to regulations that confused so  many last season shows no sign of disappearing. How many clubs can an individual be involved with? In many countries the answer is clear, in Indonesia less so. And now, just to show how innovative the country can be with football we are seeing the rise of coaches as franchises with one gentleman, involved with at least two clubs, possibly a third, as well as overseeing the selection process of another. In between all these jobs he is also involved with the national Under 19 team.

Outsiders like to gush over the potential of Indonesian football. We see it every time someone comes over to visit for two or three days on carefully stage managed tours where they are greeted by warm smiles and friendly faces. The latest was Michael Owen who visited a well known soccer school in Jakarta and told the young lads he hoped one of them could follow in his footsteps in a career that has seen him play for Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle United. So excited is he by what he saw he is looking to give his name to a new football academy. He would do well to learn the lessons of Arsenal and Liverpool who similarly have been seduced by the passion they witnessed only to fail when it came to matching that passion with cold hard cash.

The potential is there, of course it is and slowly clubs outside Indonesia are recognising it. We are currently blessed with some top coaches, Simon McMenemy (Bhayangkara), Robert Alberts (PSM), Widodo Cahyono Putro (Bali United), some forward thinking clubs (Borneo, Bali United, Madura United) and of course some exciting young players like Andritany Ardihasa (Persija) and Febri Haryardi (Persib). Indonesia boasts the best terrace culture in South East Asia and whatever else happens in 2018 once the season kicks off Persebaya are likely to have the largest attendances not just in ASEAN but throughout Asia. Unlike Malaysia and Thailand, every season four or five teams are serious title challengers. There is a Liga 2 which has teams attracting more fans than the biggest and best across the region.

But what do all these pluses mean when those charged with running the game can't do something as basic as prepare for a season? What's the point of buying the body of an Aston Martin but installing the engine of a Vespa?

 

Belencoso & Simic - A Tale Of Two Strikers

If only signing a striker was an exact science. Arguably the most important player on the field, certainly the most glamorous, football clubs around the world trawl the globe looking for the perfect forward who will provide the goals that can lead them to success and titles.

No matter how much research gets done, no matter how many You Tube videos are watched ultimately the recruitment of a striker, especially one unfamiliar to a coach and his staff, will always be a gamble and could ultimately decide the fate of the coach.

Take for example Spanish forward Juan Belencoso. After a prolific spell in Hong Kong with Kitchee which included a couple of good AFC Cup runs, he headed to Indonesia and signed for Persib who were ISL champions at the time. 

It was surely a good fit. Belencoso had done the business not just domestically but internationally and the Persib coach at the time, Dejan Antonic, would have known the striker's qualities from his expansive contacts in the HK game. What could go wrong?

Sadly the journeyman striker who had played for 11 Spanish sides before beginning his Oriental adventures bombed. The Persib camp wasn't a happy one with the team struggling for form in the ISC in 2016. Bandung may have a population of around 2.5 million but in football terms it's a village. With Persib not playing well and Antonic under fire there would be no place to hide and Belencoso bombed, soon to be released having failed to find the net in the ISC.

Contrast Belencoso's experience with Marko Simic. After a slow start in the 2017 Liga 1 season, Persija's Bruno Lopes found his shooting boots in the second half of the campaign and ended with 10 goals, a reasonable enough return in a season where his form mirrored his team's. 

However the Brazilian's contract wasn't renewed and he signed for Kelantan in Malaysia leaving Persija in need of a new focal point in the attack. In came Simic, a 30 year old Croatian who had been playing in Malaysia during the 2017 season and had found goals fairly easy to come by. 

He started the year with Premier League side Negeri Sembilan, netting nine in 19 games before being allowed to join top flight side Melaka United, where he replaced Ilija Spasojevic, and continued his fine scoring record by adding a further 12 to his personal tally.

Again we have an experienced well traveled striker with a record for scoring goals on a regular basis in Asia. Persija decided Simic was the man they wanted to replace Lopes and he signed for the Jakarta based side. Unlike Belencoso he has hit the ground running with nine goals in the pre season President Cup and with a final against Bali United this weekend who is to say he won't better Cristian Gonzales' 11 goal haul last season in the same competition.

In fact so important is Simic considered now to the Persija team, and an indication of where Indonesian football's priorities lie, that coach Teco left him out of the squad that traveled to Malaysia to face Johor Darul Ta'zim the AFC Cup so the goal getter could be fresh for the weekend's final.

To look at Simic's impact since arriving in Indonesia could be misleading and needs to be considered alongside Belencoso. Perhaps Simic benefitted from that year in Malaysia, a country with many similar cultural traits to Indonesia. Perhaps he is benefitting from being in Jakarta which is much less of a football daft city. 

Certainly club owners, seduced by the perceived glamour of that foreign centre forward scoring goals for fun, still need to be wary. The Belencoso's are still more plentiful than the Simic's. If they want the inside track on signing strikers perhaps they should keep an eye on unfancied Mitra Kukar whose record over the last couple of seasons has been pretty remarkable

2017 Marclei Santos 24 
2016 Marlon da Silva 16 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

 

Fixture Chaos Forces Liga 1 Delay

Regular observers of Indonesian football will not be surprised to learn the 2018 Liga 1 season has been put back by a few days; for the second time. The nation's top league, with the nation's top clubs, top coaches and top players is being forced to play second fiddle to a number of pre season tournaments which confer considerable prestige on the successful teams but cause coaches headaches and can incur extra expense for the bean counters should players get injured.

Thousands of Persija, Arema, Bali United and Persebaya supporters descended on the Central Java city of Solo by plane, train and bus to catch the quarter finals of the President Cup. More than 50,000 watched Persebaya play Madura United in their final group stage game. The numbers passing through the turnstiles were comfortably exceeded by the rating the TV broadcasters attracted.

Be they seated in the stand or seated in the armchair those punters demand a show and woe betide any team that is deemed to be giving less than 100%. The frentic 100% frenzy on the field is matched by the TV commentator whose celebration of a goal needs to be heard to be believed; the gentleman concerned turns games played in empty stadiums into heavy metal concerts. For him, the TV stations and the spectators there are no friendlies. Coaches don't have time to bed in new signings. For them the President Cup is the new season.

If you've seen European teams on tour in Asia or watched an Emirates Cup tie you will see a game played at a relatively gentile pace where players and coaches are focusing on building fitness and not getting injured. TV viewers don't want that. They want the blood and the guts now, this minute and to hell with tomorrow. A coach could lose three big names to long term injury in such a meaningless competition but if his team lifted the trophy no one on the terraces would give a toss. Lose the first three games of the new season however and those same fans would be braying for his head, blaming him for not having a bigger squad or signing replacements.

Hot on the heels of the President Cup comes the Piala Guberner Kalimantan Timur (Kaltim Cup) featuring seven Liga 1 sides (Borneo, Mitra Kukar (co hosts), Arema, Bali United, Madura United, Persebaya and Sriwijaya) plus Persiba, another host.This tournament is scheduled to run from 23 February, a mere six days after the President Cup final, to 4 March. The Liga 1 season has now been put back to 10 March, just don't expect any fixture list yet.

It's one thing to mess around with the domestic schedule, we are all used to that. But surely it is another to make things difficult for the sides which are competing in Asian club competition for national pride and honour. When some players wanted to play in Malaysia their patriotism was questioned by some at the PSSI. When clubs are handicapped with a set of fixtures that could very well damage their chances of success in the AFC Cup not a word is said.

Let's consider Bali United.

16/01 Bali United v Tampines Rovers AFC Champions League P1 (Gianyar)

19/01 Bali United v Borneo President Cup MD1 (Gianyar)

23/01 Chiang Rai United v Bali United AFC Champions League P2 (Chiang Rai)

24/01 Bali United v PSPS President Cup MD2 (Gianyar)

29/01 Bali United v Persija President Cup MD3 (Gianyar)

03/02 Bali United v Madura United President Cup Quarter Final (Solo)

11/02 Sriwijaya v Bali United President Cup Semi Final 1st Leg (Palembang)

13/02 Bali United v Yangon United AFC Cup Group G MD1

14/02 Bali United v Sriwijaya President Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg (Gianyar)

17/02 President Cup Final/3rd/4th Place Play Off (Jakarta)

23/02 Kaltim Cup Starts Minimum Three Games (Balikpapan, Samarinda, Terenaggong)

27/02 Global Cebu v Bali United AFC Cup Group G MD2 (Manila)

04/03 Potential Kaltim Cup Final (Samarinda)

10/03 Liga 1 Starts

Bali United could potentially have played almost 20 competitive games before the Liga 1 season kicks off and that is just nuts. Yes, it could be argued coach Widodo Cahyono Putro has a larger squad than most of his peers, and perhaps Bali United have slightly deeper pockets, but by any standard that is not a pre season, that is a full on season. Lose a couple of key players and WCP won't have much time to find replacements of a similar quality.

Considering that little lot it beggars belief quite why Bali are entering the Kaltim Cup. Remember, there are no friendlies in Indonesian football and with the new season just a few weeks away WCP will have to juggle his resources carefully if his big names aren't to be burnt out before a ball is kicked in anger in what is after all the bread and butter of Indonesian football.

Monday, January 29, 2018

 

RD Return Has Sriwijaya Dreaming Of Glory

After two years in Malaysia with unfancied T Team Indonesia's most successful coach, Rahmad Darmawan, has returned home to one of his former clubs, Sriwijaya, with a simple brief; bring back the glory days.

Under RD first time round Laskar Wong Kito won the Indonesia Super League and added three Indonesian Cups to their trophy cabinet and since he left times have been pretty lean for the Sriwijaya faithful. But his return and the addition of some big name signings have them believing the good times may be just around the corner.

Certainly 2017 is one to forget for the Palembang based club. They decided coach Widodo Cahyono Putro wasn't the man to lead them for the season and replaced him with Osvaldo Lessa on the eve of the new campaign. Lessa struggled, despite the goals of veteran striker Alberto Goncalves they finished in the lower half of the table, while Widodo was gleefully snapped up by Bali United, leading them to second place and a campaign in Asian club competition beckons.

The arrival of RD has encouraged some big names to make the move to South Sumatra with Hamka Hamkah, Makan Konate, Patrich Wanggai and Esteban Vizcarra among those looking to help the team improve on last season's poor showing. Good teams need a spine and with Hamka, Konate and Goncalves down the middle RD certainly has experience and talent at the core of his team.

As well as the golden oldies RD is putting his faith in youngsters with goalkeeper Teja Paku Alam, a rare success last season, and Ichsan Kurniawan sticking around while midfielder Adam Alis and full back Alfin Tuasalamony have also been added to the ranks after signing from Arema and Bhayangkara. Alfin is of course no stranger to RD having teamed up together at Persebaya four or five years ago but his career has been blighted by injuries in recent seasons and he will be hoping to show the sort of form that marked him at as one for the future when he was younger and had him enjoy spells in Uruguay and Belgium.

Despite losing their opening game in the President Cup to hosts Persib 1-0 Sriwijaya had no problems qualifying from their group. They defeated PSMS 3-0 (goals from Alis, Konate and another new signing Manuchekher Dzhaliov, a Tajikistan international). Sriwijaya won their final group game against PSM with another goal from Konate, a penalty, and an own goal ensuring comfotable passage to the knock out round which will be held in Solo next month.

With all the positivity surrounding the return of RD the only blemish on the horizon could be the small matter of where the team play their home games. With Palembang co hosting the multi-event Asian Games their first choice Jakabaring Stadium will be out of bounds for at least the first half of the season forcing Sriwijaya to use the much smaller Bumi Sriwijaya Stadium. The team did use that stadium towards the end of last season though and perhaps the smaller crowds will be able to generate a more hostile atmosphere for visiting teams.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

 

An Indonesian Diaspora

I don't recall a time when so many Indonesian players have decided now is the time for them to try their luck abroad. Yes, we have seen officially sanctioned programmes which have seen young players sent to Italy and Uruguay but what we are seeing now is talented professionals deciding to go overseas in a bid to improve their experience and their life skills. And they're doing this against a crescendo of whining from the PSSI chief who bemoans their lack of patriotism.

There are now at least eight players who have signed for teams in Thailand and Malaysia and while the quality and profile may not be on a par with the likes of Thai internationals Teerathon and Teerasil heading to Japan at least a mindset seems to developing there is more to being a professional footballer than bakso and questionable management practises.

Ilham Udin Armayn (Bhayangkara to Selangor)

I have lost count of the number of times I raved about this 21 year old lad last season when he broke through under Simon McMenemy's astute management at the champions Bhayangkara scoring vital goals along the way to their surprise triumph. Ilham seemed unphased by opponents and there would be a genuine buzz around the stadium if he was brought on as a sub; Indonesia is full of speed merchants, Ilham brings quality and end product to the table. I was genuinely chuffed when he got his move to Selangor and that he also scored for the national team against Iceland was just the icing on the cake.

Evan Dimas (Bhayangkara to Selangor)

While Ilham's star appeared to rise overnight Evan Dimas has seemingly been around for years. He first made a national impact in Indra Sjafri's successful Under 19 squad and was soon promoted to the national team; indeed at one stage I seem to recall he had made more appearances for the merah putih than he had for his club side Bhayangkara which he joined in 2016 from Persebaya. Dimas is no stranger to football outside of Indonesia having had trials in Spain with a couple of clubs earlier in his career and while Selangor will not be unfamiliar to him it will perhaps offer the Surabaya born midfielder a larger shop window.

Ryuji Utomo (Persija to PTT Rayong)

Ryuji personifies the spirit of seeing football as a world game and not just one restricted to a few islands in his home country. He may only be 22 but the defender has already tasted life in Uruguay and Bahrain so won't be too phased by life in a quiet Thai beach town a few hours outside of Bangkok. Sadly his career has been blighted by injury and he has yet to make his mark over a sustained period of games but he will be hoping to change that breathing the see air on the Gulf of Thailand.

Ferdinand Sinaga (PSM to Kelantan)

I find it hard to believe Sinaga is pushing 30 years of age! After doing the rounds of lower league clubs Sinaga made headlines when he was part of the SEA Games side that reached the final back in 2011, a side that boasted Patrich Wanggai, Andik Vermansyah and Titus Bonai among others. He was playing for Persiwa at the time and his exploits in the international competition saw bigger clubs sit up and take notice. Most recently he has experienced something of a renaissance under Robert Alberts at PSM with 22 goals in his two seasons, catching the eye of suitors before deciding to join Kelantan. The North East side are very much fallen giants in Malaysia but have massive potential and the supporters there will surely take to Sinaga's all action style.

Yanto Basna (Sriwijaya to Khon Kaen)

The Sorong born 22 year old defender will find himself right outside of his comfort zone as he adapts to life in Thailand's North East but as another member of the Uruguay alumni shouldn't take too long to adapt. While Yanto has earned rave reviews for his cultured style of play he has also attracted criticism for his end of season exploits, most noticeably the will he, won't he transfer moves which haven't endeared him to some fans. Is Khon Kaen a step above Sriwijaya? Unlikely but many people regard the Thai league to be stronger than the Indonesian, questionable, and he will have the opportunity to parade his skills in front of a football fraternity with pretty impressive contacts throughout the region and beyond.

Achmad Jufriyanto (Persib to Kuala Lumpur)

Jupe's tearful departure from Bandung, his second stint at the club, sees the end of Persib's successfull centre half pairing (along with Vladimir Vujovic) and a first spell overseas for the 30 year old. Doubtless Jupe would have had offers aplenty locally but perhaps after winning two titles in Indonesia (Arema and Persib) he felt the time was right was new pastures? Certainly the contrast between KL and Persib is stark. Bandung may look like a large, sprawling city to the untrained eye but in football terms it is a village where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. KL will afford Jupe a degree of anonymity he hasn't enjoyed for a while and who knows, he may even have dreams of playing himself back into the national team where he 16 caps. 

Terens Puhiri (Borneo to Port)

This is perhaps one of the more interesting moves and is an indication of increasing contacts between Indonesia and the rest of the region. The 21 year old flyer has been in Samarinda since 2013 and signed for Borneo in 2015. For a while it looked like he would be just one of many small pacy players that Indonesia churns out like a production line, less than 5 foot 6 inches, light as a feather but as fast as the wind. Then he scored a goal, against Mitra Kukar, which went viral and he soon became known beyond the borders and people became aware of the Papuan born flyer and he signed for Port on loan for 2018. Hopefully the move is a success and not just one based on a few seconds of You Tube fame.

David Laly (Barito Putera - FELCRA)

I honestly don't know what to make of this particular move. The 26 year old Laly has been a steady performer throughout his career without disturbing any Ibu's carefully coiffured hair along the way. Just a steady pro making his way through an unspectacular career thath as seen him play for Persipura, Persidafon, Pelita Bandung Raya and Persib before ending up in 2017 under Jacksen F Thiago at Barito Putera where he did enough to earn interest from overseas. Let's face it, FELCRA are no Selangor or Kelantan. Hell, they aren't even KL, rather they are a government department better known as Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority, a name that hardly rolls off the tongue. This coming season will be their first ever in Malaysia's second tier and Laly will be part of history! 



Friday, January 19, 2018

 

Madura's Naturalised Vets Hit Ground Running

The President Cup, staged in five cities around Indonesia, is kicking off this week as clubs get earnest about their preparations for the new season and it seems one particular club have hit the ground running.

The 2017 Liga 1 season was Madura United's first as a professional club having bought the licence of Pelita Jaya in 2016 and they did admirably finishing the season in fifth place, earning themselves a place in this year's AFC Cup thanks in large part to the goals of ex West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie.

The Nigerian marksman has since moved on Madura coach Gomes de Olivera has been kept busy looking to replace his goals but rather than look overseas for an experienced player lacking in the Indonesian experience he has looked closer to home and opted for experience over youthful promise.

Without doubt the highest profile inbound signing has been veteran Cristian Gonzales. Despite being on fire during last season's President Cup with Arema, scoring 11 goals as the Crazy Lions went on to lift the trophy, he struggled to make an impression in a poor side during the Liga 1 season as the team finished ninth.

The 41 year old Uruguayan goal getter came to Indonesia in 2003 when he signed for PSM and has been here ever since, playing for Persik, Persib and Persisam before signing for Arema in 2013. Any chance of El Loco slowing down in Malang didn't last long, despite last season's poor showing he still averaged a goal every two games.

His goals aren't the only asset Gonzales brings to the Madura table. He was naturalised in 2010, becoming the first foreign born player to go on and wear the red and white of Indonesia in an international and has since gone on to make 28 appearances for his adopted country.

Another naturalised player Gomes will be looking to for goals is attacking midfielder Raphael Maitimo. Unlike Gonzales the Dutch born Maitimo has an family connection with Indonesia. The 33 year old fine tuned his skills with Dutch giants Feyenoord before moving to Indonesia in 2011 to play in the short lived IPL. He has played for a good few clubs since then, last season being the top scorer with Persib.

As you might imagine given his Dutch roots Maitimo is an extremely talented player, comfortable with the ball played to feet and boasting an exquisite array of passing and a lethal shot. In the harem scarem world of Indonesian football, Maitimo is that rare player who can take a moment or two before moving the ball on.

The third player completing Gomes' collection of naturalised veterans is Greg Nwokolo. Born in Nigeria in 1986, Nwokolo has been in South East Asia since signing for Singapore's Tampines Rovers in 2003 apart from a short Portuguese siesta in 2009 with Olhanense. He was naturalised in 2013 and has made six appearances for the national team

When Gomes sent his team out to play Perseru in their opening President Cup tie in Surabaya he left Maitimo and Gonzales on the bench. Nwokolo opened the scoring on 13 minutes, using his body strength to make space in the penalty area to turn and shoot before Bayu Gatra made it 2-0 just before half time finsihing frpm close range. 

Nwokolo netted his second with a delightful free kick in the second half before laying on an easy side foot for Gonzales with 11 minutes remaining. Maitimo made it five with just eight minutes remaining with a typically calm finish inside the penalty area.

Two goals and two assists for Nwokolo and a goal apiece for debutants Gonzales and Maitimo, Madura's naturalised veterans have got their team off to a flying start but tougher opponents lie ahead with PS TNI (rebranded as PS Tira Bantul) and Persebaya next up. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

 

New Age Limits Add To Coach's Pressures

I  must admit to a feeling of massive underwhelment at the recent 'changes' announced by the Football Association of Singapore as they bid to improve the state of their flagship SLeague. Remember, this is a league where the last eight trophies have  been won by just one team, Albirex Niigata, which features precisely zero local players.

Local giants Tampines Rovers, Home United and Warriors have struggled to play catch up as the Japanese side reinvents itself each season and still goes on to dominate the Singapore scene. Will the latest proposals provide the impetus to end the White Swans' local domination as well as provide a conveyor belt of young talent for a moribund national team?

The main change appears to be the introduction of age quotas. Local clubs must have a squad of between 19 and 25 players. If a squad has 22 players a minimum of six players must be aged 23 or under while a further eight must be aged under 30. I must admit age limits leave me thinking 'meh'. Isn't it just tinkering round the edges of the problem especially when the Young Lions will continue to exist? Surely if you want to introduce age limits then do so but disband Young Lions as well and disperse the squad around the league?

Each team must start a game with a minimum of three local Under 23 players. If a coach wants to replace an Under 23 player in the first half they must bring on another Under 23 player. In the second half they can bring on who they want. See what I mean? Meh.

Albirex Niigata now have the option of signing two Under 23 local players. Woo. Why would they want to given they dominate the game without any locals? On the other hand why limit to two? If the aim is to make Singapore football more professional and Albirex Niigata are obviously the most professional side in the country why not open the door to more local lads?

A coach's job is to get the best out of his team and the key word here is his team. He should be the final arbiter of who gets signed, who plays and who gets replaced, not some desk jockey. If a coach is being forced to field teams to fit regulations rather than a game plan and his team loses will the club be sympathetic to the extra demands placed on him by these new regulations?

Some good news at least from these new proposals. The pointless League Cup is to be ditched.



 

Local Sides See Merit In Attracting Foreign Teams Pre Season

It is heartening to see some of the more ambitious Indonesian sides look to foreign shores when it comes to preparing for the 2018 season.

Both Madura United and PSM have lined up intriguing pre season tournaments that go beyond the usual dull old trofeo format that has become popular in recent seasons.

Suramadu Super Cup 7 - 11 January

Madura United, Persela, PKNS, Selangor

PSM Super Cup Asia 19 - 21 January

PSM, Adelaide United, Negeri Sembilan, Home United

Let's hope these tournaments do go ahead. They not only provide local teams the chance to pit their wits against regional rivals but also the opportunity for supporters to see players and teams from different lands.

 

APPI Needs To Respond To 'Traitor' Slurs

The PSSI chairman has been in the news recently. The military man who is also a candidate for the governorship of North Sumatra has reacted angrily to the prospect of Indonesian footballers having the gall to go and ply their trade overseas.

He first made the comments when Bhayangkara duo Evan Dimas and Ilham Uddin were signed by Malaysian side Selangor, calling the pair unpatriotic, whatever that means.

Sadly the notion of nationalism is never far from the surface in political discourse and it's not just Indonesia as we see countries like UK and USA dress up obscene policies in the bows and ribbons of patriotism.

This though is the first time I have seen footballers being accused of lacking a love of their country because they want to try their luck overseas. Football has long embraced globalisation and it is common to see players pack their boots for foreign lands. 

Indonesia of course has benefited. The national team is coached by a Spaniard. A Scotsman led Bhayangkara to the title. A Brazilian is one of the most successful coaches in the country. A Montegran and a Uruguayan have become naturalised Indonesians in recent years. 

However the PSSI chief hasn't backed down. he has now taken to saying any players that don't answer their nations call up are traitors! As he cranks up the flag waving rhetoric it is easy to see how impressionable young men who have been brought up in a culture where deference to 'superiors' is imgrained (part of the nationalism I guess?), may have second thoughts about advancing their careers overseas.

Where is the players' union APPI in all this? Are they standing up to the PSSI by explaining ow football works and how the national team can benefit from players being exposed to different environments? Surely if there was a time for the likes of Bambang Pamungkas and Ponaryo Astaman to speak up it is now? For a generation leagues and players have benefited from trying their luck in different leagues. Now is not the time for Indonesia to go inward looking but it needs the experienced pros to stick their heads above the trenches and speak out.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

 

Forget DPMM, Coventry City Would Be Perfect Liga 1 Fit

Golly. A month off. Things have been pretty hectic as I struggle to adapt to my latest country but am still keeping in touch with Indonesian football and all that entails. As I try and wean myself back into the writing habit something gentle to start off with. 

So, DPMM want to join Liga 1? The Brunei side it seems are a bit peeved by some of the new regulations imposed by the Football Association of Singapore and have been casting around in search of a new home. For some reason they think Indonesia would be a good fit and, given their history, traditions and fan base seem to think they are eminently qualified to jump straight into the top flight and pass by minor inconveniences like promotion from Liga 3 upwards.

Unlike Singapore and Malaysia I don't recall any foreign teams taking part in the Indonesian football eco system. Simply put Indonesia doesn't need an outsider to come along and make up the numbers. Wanna add a team to Liga 1? PSS? PSIM?

The PSSI admit the suggestion from DPMM is being discussed. Football's governing body does move in mysterious ways so who knows what they will decide but when you consider the current chief is a military type who recently slammed a couple of Indonesia's finest young talents for having the temerity to play overseas, he said they weren't patriotic enough, it does seem unlikely DPMM will get the green light, whatever the sultan of that nation may offer.

Still, if Indonesia does want to take on a foreign team might I suggest Coventry City? DPMM have their own home ground and everything. Coventry already have many of the criteria a proper Indonesian football club needs.

The Sky Blues have fallen on hard times since they were relegated from the Premier League at the end of 2000/2001 the club have lurched from one disaster to another. They left their home off 106 years, Highfield Road in 2005 to move into the brand spanking new Ricoh Arena but the team's inability to regain their top flight status meant they were struggling financially and with all the big TV deals being signed in their absence Coventry found themselves missing out on both riches and a home.

With attendances falling and Coventry falling down the divisions, they were relegated to the third tier at the end of the 2012 season. Fans fell out with the owners who in turn seemed to fall out with the stadium owners forcing the club to look elsewhere for a home. There were rumours of groundsharing with Walsall and even an offer of Ricoh Arena rent free but ultimately the club decided they would play their home games in Northampton, a round trip of 70 miles.

Now by Indonesian standards 70 miles isn't that far but many Coventry fans turned militant. The club made the move in time for the 2013/2014 season and large numbers of supporters boycotted their team. Their one season in Northampton was marred by small attendances and the unusual sight of some fans standing on a hill overlooking the stadium cheering on their team while refusing to buy any tickets. They hired buses, went through the usual match day rituals and sang their songs...they just point blank refused to hand over any money to the club and its owners.

The following season and Coventry returned to the Ricoh with over 27,000 seeing their first game of the campaign. The return home sadly didn't end the sorry saga. The stadium was bought out by Wasps, a rugby union club who used to play in Wycombe and once more Coventry City are mere tenants, a proud, famous football club left homeless in the brutal modern age where money is the arbiter of all and history counts for shit.

Having seen Coventry City games at Highfield Road and in Northampton it seemed appropriate I take the opportunity to see the Sky Blues at the Ricoh. And how disappointing it was. Make no mistake, the stadium is owned by Wasps, they get the crowds and the football club get the scraps. I got the impression they were very much unwanted tenants; there was little to indicate a football club founded in 1883 exists at all. Any branding was Wasps related. Finding the Coventry City ticket office was a mission and as for the club shop? It's located under a railway line in a nearby retail park!

Coventry City are now in the fourth tier of English football. They defeated Wycombe Wanderers last night 3-2 to climb into the top four as they aim to get promoted. But having seen the old Highfield Road in its glory, an old school stadium big on fences, rocking to a full house it is sad to see how the football club has fallen to this uncomfortable existance.

A nomadic club with a supporter boycott and unpopular owners; Coventry Cit would seem to be a perfect fit for Indonesia!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

 

Vujovic To Leave Persib But Will Remain Club Legend

Persib Bandung were trailing 1-0 against Arema in the Indonesia Super League semi final at the Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang. The only goal of the game had come in the first minute of the second half. Persib’s Montegran defender Vladimir Vujovic failed to anticpate the bounce of a ball lofted into the penalty area.

Arema’s Brazilian striker Alberto Goncalves took full advantage of the slip, driving the ball across the keeper I Made Wirawan and into the far post. The East Java side, ISL champions back in 2009/2010, had one foot in the final.

With seven minutes remaining, however, Vujovic redeemed for his earlier error. This time it was the Arema defence that failed to clear and the tall defender stooped to sweep the ball home from close range. The goal took the game to injury time and further goals from Atep and Konate Makan set Persib up for their first ever ISL final appearance.

As this paper goes to press, thousands of Persib supporters, known as Bobotoh (a Sundanese word meaning follower) are looking at how they can get to Palembang in time for Friday’s final against Persipura Jayapura. The city in South Sumatra will slowly but surely turn blue as the Persib hoardes take over the place in a bid to win the ISL for the first time in their history.

That the West Java are in the final at all is in no small part down to Vujovic. The goal against Arema was his sixth in 11 games; no mean feat for a striker let alone a player bought to the club for his height at the back.

And in the manner of great goalscorers the world over, when Vujovic scores it usually means something. It was his injury time penalty against Mitra Kukar in the play off  round that earned Persib a 2-1 victory while his team were struggling to break down a resolute Persik Kediri towards the end of the season before Vujovic nroke the deadlock halfway through the second half. Persib went on to win that game 3-0.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. While Persib have looked to more traditional outlets for their goals this season, think Atep, Makan, Fedinand Sinaga, Djibril Coulibaly, it is the journeyman defender who has come up trumps at the business end of the campaign time and time again.

Yet Vujovic would be the first to admit he makes an unlikely hero. Persib are his 13th team in a 14 year career that also includes three spells with his hometown club Mogren Budva. He was played football for a living in Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Lebanon; a resume that would leave career diplomats gasping for breath, let alone a professional footballer!

It is unlikely though that Vujovic will have engraved his name so indelibly within a club’s psyche as he has at Persib. His goals during their run to the ISL final will have given him a special place in the hearts of Bobotoh everywhere and as his compatriot and one time Persib player himself Miljan Radovic can tell him, once a Bobotoh, always a Bobotoh.

NOTE - this was written ahead of Persib's game against Persipura when they were crowned Indonesia Super League champions in 2014. The defender has just announced he will be leaving the football club. The story also appeared in the Jakarta Globe at the time where for a few memorable hours it was the most read article.


Monday, November 13, 2017

 

ASEAN Average Attendances 2017

Indonesia (top 6 attendances)

46,359 Persebaya v Semeru
36,545 Persib v Persija
34.056 Persib v Arema
29,673 Persija v Persela
29,669 Persija v PS TNI
29,640 Persija v Bhayangkara

Indonesia Average

23,051 Persija
18,006 Persib
13,779 PSM
13,423 Bali United
12,392 Persipura

Malaysia 

17,051 Johor Darul Ta'zim
14,693 Kedah
  7,542 Pahang
  7,097 Kelantan
  6,474 Perak

Thailand

13,890 Buriram United
  9,359 Muang Thong United
  7,493 Suphanburi
  6,316 Chiang Rai United
  6,059 Nakorn Ratchasima

Vietnam

9,333 Thanh Hoa
8,538 SHB Da Nang
8,417 Hoang Anh Gia Lai
7,583 Hai Phong
6,750 Than Quang Ninh

 

Persib Season Ends In Disgrace After Perseru Loss

Following on from their 2014 Indonesia Super League title success it looked like Persib were set fair to dominate the domestic game for years to come. They had the squad, they had the supporters and they had the vision off the field. 

Then came the FIFA suspension. Persib had reached the last 16 of the AFC Cup but the rug was pulled from under their feet and domestically the ISL was halted. The winning mentality hung around for a while and they still won the President's Cup but by 2016 key components of the title winning squad had moved on including coach Djadjang Nurdjaman.

With no official league Persib joined the other ISL teams in the Indonesia Soccer Championship in 2016 and after a slow start fan pressure forced out coach Dejan Antonic and the club were forced to welcome back Djadjang to salvage a rudderless ship.

For the 2017 Persib went out aggressively recruiting high profile players like Michael Essien, Carlton Cole and Raphael Maitimo but struggled to gel as Djadjang tried to juggle his squad with the demands of an interfering management. He was on a loser and tried to resign but the club wouldn't let him.

Eventually he did manage to step down and Persib found a 'suitable' replacement in Emral Abus but results didn't improve and the team blessed with so many riches went into freefall. 

Fan discontent that had started in the 2016 season showed no signs of going away with some invading the pitch after losing away to Bhayangkara to express their disgust at the way the club was being run. 

Manager Umuh Muchtar was banned from football for six months after Persib stopped playing in Solo after seeing a perfectly good goal disallowed by the Australian ref. While many supporters were happy to see him go the results didn't improve and Persib ended the season with three straight losses.

The Bobotoh kept supporting their team and more than 20,000 saw their Under 19s play in the final against Persipura in Cikarang. The Black Pearls won 1-0 and elements of the Persib support responded by trashing parts of the newly built stadium.

Persib's final game of the season saw them hosting relegation threatened Perseru. The visitors secured their spot in Liga 1 next season with a surprise 2-0 and, humiliated, Persib fans kicked off again, invading the pitch and throwing rocks at the team coach. That 23,000 supporters showed for this end of season disaster says much about the loyalty of the Bobotoh; that Persib should lose, their first home loss of the season, says much of the disharmony around the football club.

Persib ended the season just six points clear of the relegation places and with four losses in their last six games. The season hasn't been all doom and gloom as the faithful have seen young players like Febri Haryadi, Billy Keraf and Gian Zola come in and make an impression.  But they were handicapped by a lack of goals. Carlton Cole was regularly attacked by the manager during his stay as he struggled for fitness and Sergio van Dijk missed most of the season through injury. That midfielder Rapahel Maitimo ended up as top scorer with nine goals only highlights the lack of potency up top for the season.

Persib need a serious overhaul if they are to challenge the new breed of teams that have arrived on the scene/ Champions Bhayangkara, Bali United and Madura United and even PSM and Persija have shown clubs need to appoint a coach and let the coach do his job. You get the impression that is not the case in Bandung. That requires a shake up of the club culture and it remains to be seen whether or not the club want to go down that road.

 

FIFA Congratulate Bali As Bhayangkara Lift Title

I received a message from my brother yesterday. 'Why,' he wanted to know 'weren't Bali United champions?' Long story I replied.

It wasn't only a West Ham United fan with no knowledge of Indonesian football who was asking questions about Bhayangkara's surprise title success.

The game's world governing body was caught out as well. They congratulated Bali United on winning Liga 1 and showed a screenshot of the final table.

The ASEAN Football Federation followed suit, congratulating Bali United.

Even Bali United got in on the act. They defeated already relegated Gresik United 3-0 and held a party after the game with the players wearing t shirts describing themselves as The Real Champions! The flares and smoke bombs won't go down well with the league and the club could face sanctions.

Meanwhile in Bekasi the actual champions Bhayangkara took the lead against Persija through the prolific Ilija Spaosjevic only  for the visitors to fight back with two goals from Ramdhani Lestalahu to give them the three points and cementing their spot in the top four and the AFC Cup next year.

While the league have been clamping down on pyrotechnic displays inside stadiums they seem less concerned with people being involved with more than one team and some social media wags described this game as the GW Derby. 

Despite winning the league Bhayangkara won't be playing in Asian football in 2018 despite sharing the same stadium as Persija. Why? I don't know...As for my brother? He shrugged his shoulders and went to see Wimbledon play Peterborough United.

 

Madura United's Odemwingie Takes To Social Media

Madura United's Peter Odemwingie has been sucked into an online spat with his club following the team's back to back losses at the end of a season that had gone so well. The East Javan club president Achsanul Qosari took to social media to explain to the team's supporters that Odemwingie would be leaving the club.

'Since the game with Bhayangkara (when Odemwingie was sent off after being on the receiving end of some bad challenges) Odemwingie has been felt unhappy about continuing his career in Indonesia. He was really angry with opponents who he felt were trying to provoke him in a way that went against the spirit of fair play.'

Odemwingie seemed to have really taken to life in Indonesia, he started the season on fire with 13 goals in quick succession and his social media accounts showed a guy happy in his skin in his adopted country and not one reflecting on his past career as other high profile names have done. A few months back it was announced he would be signing on for a second season with Madura United but that seems to be over now.

'He (Odemwingie) has returned the down payment he had already received from Madura United,' continued Qosari, 'and he is not available to play in Indonesia again.'

Odemwingie hasn't responded well to Qosari's comments. In a tweet addressed to the club president he says 'can you please not quote me in the press? Especially things I never said. Thank you.'

He followed up a couple of hours later with a longer post saying the club shouldn't use 'my name to complain about the league operators because we didn't become champions'. He went on to say 'Yes poor decisions from referees (like it happens everywhere in the world) we can only complain and speculate about corruption until proven'. 

The Uzbek born striker goes on to admit he and the club are parting ways and are working to find a solution that is win win for both parties. 

It is ironic that Indonesian football can be so transparent at times. No English club for example would come out and say what Qosari did. Former Chelsea and west Ham United striker Carlton Cole was also taken aback to read about often negative comments about him in the local media from the club manager; Cole to having been brought up in England where dirty linen was washed within the club and not aired in public.

Odemwingie has had a good season in Indonesia and has proven to be a model professional, exactly the type of player the country needs. Hopefully a win win solution can be found for both parties.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

 

Marquee Players Leave Indonesia Less Than Impressed

With the Liga 1 season coming to an end it's time we look back at the marquee players and how they did over the course of the campaign. Were they any that stuck out from the crowd? Were there any flops? What memories will they take from Indonesia?

The notion of the marquee player came pretty late. From my understanding Persib signed Michael Essien, the former Chelsea midfielder, then the league announced clubs would be entitled to sign four foreigners and one marquee. 

Other players followed, some familiar, others less so. Madura United signed ex West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie, Semen Padang brought in the former Spurs midfielder Didier Zokora and Mitra Kukar added ex Liverpool player Mohammad Sissoko to their ranks.

They are perhaps the best known examples but that is not to say other clubs shunned the programme. Borneo for example recruited New Zealan international Shane Smeltz who had impressed in Malaysia last season. PSM announced Wiljan Pluim, who they had signed during the second half of last season, would be their marquee while Arema brought in Juan Pino to little acclaim.

Bali United went Dutch when they signed Nick van der Velden while PS TNI's Elio Martins impressed when he first arrived. Flushed with cash from sponsorship most clubs went down the marquee route with varying levels of success.

Zokora was gone by the middle of the season. Semen Padang, normally such a stable, well run club, failed to build on the relative success of last season, in part down to Marcel Sacremento scoring far fewer goals, struggled to find any kind of consistency and come the transfer window Zokora was allowed to leave. Things didn't improve and the Padang side were ultimately relegated.

Essien was involved in one of the most controversial incidents of the season. The high risk game between Persija and Persib was moved to Solo, as usual, and Essien's Persib thought they had taken the lead in the first half when Chad striker Ezechiel N'Douassel thought he had scored with a header from close range. The ref however had different ideas and disallowed the goal and Essien, who had a perfect view of what had happened, led the protests as Persib couldn't believe their perfectly good goal had been disallowed.

Mohammad Sissoko has left his unique own mark on the title race. In fact you could say he had a direct role in Bhayangkara being crowned champions. He was sent off in the Mahakam derby between Mitra Kukar and Borneo and his team left him out of their next game which they lost 4-0. With Sissoko restored to the line up for their next game, at home to title challengers Bhayangkara Mitra Kukar drew 1-1 and it looked for all the world like Bali United would go on and be crowned champions.

The league then announced that in actual fact Sissoko had been suspended for two games, not one, hence was illegible to play against Bhayangkara and awarded the game 3-0 to the men in green. You can of course imagine the outcry this caused as those two extra points meant Simon McMenemy's team were back on top of the table and, thanks to better results in a head to head with Bali, only needed to beat Madura United to win the league for the first time in their history.

And it was in Madura where Peter Odemwingie. The Uzbekistan born striker seemed to have really taken to life in Indonesia and his 13 goals in the first half of the season helped put Madura United in the mix for the title. Then he was injured and was forced to miss a couple of months. By the time he returned Madura had lost ground on the leaders and all that was left to play for was personal pride. 

Odemwingie scored twice in his first three games on his return. Then came the game with Bhayangkara. The game was played behind closed doors, police kept fans away from the main entrance to the stadium, thronged the corridors in the main stand and the kick off was delayed as the TV channels were showing some wedding reception apparently. 

For a title decider the game was dreadful. The tackles were flying thick and fast and when Odemwingie lashed out at Bhayangkara's Indra Khahfi after being on the receiving end of some dodgy tackles, the Iranian ref had no hesitation in brandishing a straight red. Odemwingie had lost it and he looked like the kind of guy who had just had enough. Think Joey Barton playing for Queens Park Rangers against Manchester City when they won the Premier League. 

In a controversial end to a controversial season three of the highest profile marquee players played key roles in the action for good or bad. Neither of them featured in their team's last games. It could take a good agent to convince them to stay another season. Sadly for Indonesian football Essien, Sissoko and Odemwingie have many friends in football. Next time an Indonesian club comes calling for one of their mates can you imagine the type of reference they would be given?

People may want to flex their muscles. They may want to show they have 'power' and 'influence'. But beyond Indonesia's shores their names mean nothing. Football is the global game and footballers are global players. When Odemwingie, Essien and Sissoko tell the world about their experiences here, about the way a result was changed, a letter was misplaced, a kick off delayed there will only be one loser. 



Thursday, November 09, 2017

 

ASEAN Domestic Champions Five Year Record

Indonesia 

2013 - Persipura
2014 - Persib
2015 - Gresik United*
2016 - Persipura**
2017 - Bhayangkara

* season halted following FIFA suspension
** Indonesia Soccer Championship is not recognised as an official league

Malaysia

2013 -  LionsXII
2014 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim
2015 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim
2016 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim
2017 -  Johor Darul Ta'zim

Singapore

2013 - Tampines Rovers
2014 - Warriors
2015 - DPMM
2016 - Albirex Niigata
2017 - Albirex Niigata

Thailand

2013 - Buriram United
2014 - Buriram United
2015 - Buriram United
2016 - Muang Thong United*
2017 - Buriram United

The 2016 season was cut short when the Thai king died

 

Bhayangkara Champions After Spaso Hat Trick

The circumstances may have been controversial but then what in Indonesian football isn't? Bhayangkara have been there or there abouts all season, impressing many with their open, attacking football. Coach Simon McMenemy has shown he isn't afraid to make the big shouts along the way for example replacing Thiago Fortuoso with Ilija Spasojevic mid season or placing his trust in 20 year old rookie keeper Awan Setho Raharjo.

Nine wins in 11 games seemed to have set Bhayangkara on course for their first ever title when they travelled to Banjarmasin to face Barito Putera. Jacksen F Thiago's team had made a name for themselves giving the leading teams nervous moments and indeed earlier in the season had nicked a 1-0 victory in Bekasi against Bhayangkara despite playing on the back foot for most of the 90 minutes. History repeated as they defeated McMenemy's men 1-0 again, their first loss since the end of July.

Four days later Bhayangkara had a chance to reassert their authority when they hosted fellow title challengers PSM but two goals early in the second half saw them slump to a second defeat in less than a week and suddenly Bhayangkkara were looking up at the leaders rather than down on the chasing pack.

Fortunately for the coaching staff their next game wasn't for eight days and they were able to concentrate on doing their thing on the training ground. Bhayangkara aren't a big club by any stretch of the imagination. They started life as Persikubar in East Kalimantan and through a series of tortuous, and not always transparent, mergers and acquisitions now find themselves in Bekasi, West Java, a dormitory suburb of Jakarta as a police owned team, reliant on off duty coppers for support.

This low profile meant the team were able to get on with restoring any battered confidence they may have felt after straight losses far from the media spotlight that would have accompanied more established teams. They were put through their paces ahead of their next game against Persela, a side troubled having lost their legendary goalkeeper Choirul Huda following a tragic on field collision in a recent game.

There is no sympathy on the football field and with newly naturalised striker Ilija Spasojevic, boasting a fresh Indonesian passport, opening the scoring the police backed side went on to win the game 3-1. Bhayangkara were back but their run in was tricky.

Their game away to Madura United was postponed at the last minute when the hosts were unable to find an alternate venue; they had been slapped with a stadium ban following an incident at a previous game. For some reason no action was taken against Madura for failing to fulfil a fixture but Bhayangkara now knew they would face a busy final week to the season with three games in a week including a fair amount of travel.

Next up was Mitra Kukar away, never an easy place to play. McMenemy's team came away with a point and with Bali United winning away to PSM thanks to an injury time winner from Stefano Lilypaly it seemed the title had slipped away. Then, in the hours leading up to the rearranged Madura United game, an apparent administration oversight (I'm being polite here) saw the title race turned upside down. Mitra Kukar were found guilty of playing an illegible player, M Sissoko,  and the game was awarded to Bhayangkara 3-0. Despite having an inferior goal difference to Bali United, Bhayangkara had come out on top in their meetings so all they needed to do was win in Madura and they would be crowned champions.

And win they did but only in the strangest of circumstances. Despite being banned from watching the game inside the stadium Madura United fans had apparently been told they could gather in the car park to support their team. This permission was then rescinded and a large police presence ensured no fans could get near the stadium. Kick off was then delayed, apparently because a it clashed with a wedding reception. 

They finally did kick off and Bhayangkara won 3-1 thanks to a Spasojevic hat trick. It was an untidy game at best. Paolo Sergio missed an early penalty for Bhayangkara, striking the post. Peter Odemwingie, so impressive for Madura United, was red carded after lashing out at Indra Kahfi. Substitute Fandi Eko Utomo was on the field for about three minutes and was booked twice before being sent off. Madura United ended the game with eight players when substitute Rizky Febrianto, who had pulled one back, was sent off with five minutes remaining.

Bhayangkara celebrated like champions do. Let the controversies and conspiracies swirl this was their moment. Winning the title in any country is no easy achievement, in Indonesia it is even harder. Bhayangkara can be criticised for a number of things but not on the playing side. McMenemy has built a team that plays good football and works as a unit. Watching them play you can see the discipline he has instilled in his side. His signing of Spasojevic was a master stroke as the ex Persib striker responded with 12 goals in 15 games. When Bhayangkara blinked Spaso kept on scoring. Meanwhile in the midfield unheralded South Korean Lee Yoo Joon has been the glue that has held the team together.

While the hoary old pros can look back on a job well done, Indonesian football can feel excited about the progress some of its young players have made. Evan Dimas and Putu Gede were well known before the season started but Dendy Sulistyawan, Ilham Uddin and Awan Setho Raharjo have been impressive all season while Jajang Mulyana has played with maturity in a number of positions to show his versatility.

The concept of Bhayangkara, a police backed club born from a number of mergers is never going to achieve mass support from the Indonesian football community brought up on their own local side with their history and traditions. If Bhayangkara were Thai for example where clubs have less history and bandwagons come easier the reaction to winning the title would be far more positive. And Bali United may have a sexier image, look where they come from after all, but they, along with the likes of Madura United, are doing their bit to shake up the cobwebs of the long dormant football scene on the pitch at least.

Simon McMenemy deserves kudos for the job he has done, for the team he has built and the way the team has played football. The coaching staff and the players have nothing to do with management or Liga 1 'forgetting' to send out letters. Their job is to play football and over the season they have done that pretty well.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

 

Mystery As Liga 1 Decision Puts Bhayangkara In Pole Position

Bhayangkara - Champions Elect?
A few months back I wrote about wayang, a puppet show where the puppet master sits behind a screen and manipulates puppets while telling a story. Understanding the concept of wayang goes a long way to understanding Indonesian and the myriad WTF moments that colour life here. Whenever something happens a little out of the ordinary, which is quite often, my first thought is who benefits? Why has this happened, why now and who benefits?

That there are hidden puppet masters pulling the strings of football's stakeholders is nothing new of course. You think the rebel Liga Primer Indonesia was about football? Think again! And sadly the 2017 season is perhaps even more evidence football isn't just about 90 minutes. For some football is about ego, power and, more importantly, having the power to project that power.

When Bali United defeated PSM in Makassar thanks to Stefano Lillipaly's injury time winner it seemed the Liga 1 season had taken yet another tortuous turn in a season of tortuous twists and turns. That late, late victory, which produced surely one of the iconic pictures of the season with the PSM goalkeeper Rivky Mokodompit slumped against a goal posted looking thoroughly dejected, embracing a couple of sobbing supporters, ended PSM's title challenge and surely thrust Bali into pole position.

The three points saw them go two points clear at the top of the table with a superior goal difference ahead of Bhayangkara with the latter facing tough games against Madura United and Persija needing maximum points to be crowned champions themselves. Advantage Bali United. Or so we thought.

On 23rd October middle of the table Borneo beat middle of the table Mitra Kukar 4-0 in the Mahakam Derby. A surprise result perhaps but not one that would have had any great significance on the title race. One would have thought. Mitra Kukar's midfielder M Sissoko, yep the player who used to play for Liverpool, was red carded in the last minute. 

Normally a red card sees a player sit out the next game and dutifully Mitra Kukar left the Malian international out of their next game away to Persib. 

Twenty four hours before Mitra Kukar's next game, against Bhayangkara no less, Liga 1 apparently sent a letter advising advising 26 year old defender Herwin Tri Saputra would be illegible to play against Bhayangkara because of accumulation of yellow cards. The game went ahead 3rd November sans Saputra, but with Sissoko back in the line up, and ended 1-1. No one seemed to think too much about it at the time. Valuable points dropped by Bhayangkara yes but they were still in the title race.

Now comes news Sissoko shouldn't have played with Liga 1 claiming Sissoko should not have played in this game. Apparently the league had discussed the Sissoko case on 28th October but had, so it seems, left out details of his suspension from their letter they sent on 2nd November. Despite this apparent oversight/SNAFU, Liga 1 have decided to award the game to Bhayangkara 3-0 thus putting them back on top of Liga 1 ahead of Bali United based upon their head to head.

Tonight sees Bhayangkara play Madura United and that is another story. The teams were due to meet last month but Madura United were told they could not play a couple of home games in Madura following crowd disturbances. The club claimed they couldn't find another venue in time but rather than be punished for failing to hold a fixture the game was rearranged. Tonight's game will be played in Madura but spectators are not allowed inside the stadium. They are however being encouraged to gather outside!

Bhayangkara's last game of the season is against Persija in Bekasi. Officially a home game, given their support, and Persija's it will be to all intents and purposes a Persija home game. To add more twists and turns the Persija president was at one time the president of Bhayangkara. Indeed until recently Bhayangkara's official Instagram account used to hashtag this guy's name.

With everything now pointing to Bhayangkara winning the title, though we can expect more twists and turns in the final few days, we now know if they are crowned champions they won't be allowed to compete in the AFC Champions League because they don't have the proper licencing the AFC requires. 

As you can imagine, many football fans aren't happy with the way things are panning out. Most recognise Bhayangkara are a good team. Well coached by Simon McMenemy, they boast promising young players like Putu Gede and Evan Dimas as well as experienced players like Firman Utina and Ilija Spasojevic. But there is little respect for the football club which is mocked for having no history and no fans. 

There are also deeper concerns over what a Bhayangkara title success would say about the state of Indonesian football. Bhayangkara are of course a rebranded PS Polri, the police side that has only recently embraced professional football. And the PSSI are no run by a serving military officer. There is of course much discussion over this recent uniform interest in football and, in true wayang style, what is going on behind the scenes. The events of the last few days have done nothing to ease those concerns.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

 

Persija's Bright Future After Ignoring Fans' Call For Coach Ouster

Remember earlier in the season when Persija were struggling to find a win? When they went on that run which saw them winless in six games, scoring two goals along the way? The fans were calling for coach Teco to be sacked, there were protests at games, banners held up calling for change at the football club?

Teco stuck to his guns and to their credit the football club did as well. Too often clubs pander to the whims of their supporters and sack the coach as soon as they feel it is what the supporters want.

The problem is of course a football fan is a fickle beast. For the fan the last result is everything and when you keep failing to score then you're not going to win, no matter how good your defence is.

And Teco was building a good defence. In fact that's what good coaches do. They build a team on a strong back line. Sadly for coaches building a defence is neither sexy nor quick. Ask the likes of Sam Allardyce or George Graham. But good teams are built on the foundation of a good defence and for all Persija's woes in front of goal they were still a tough nut to crack, conceding just five goals in that run.

In Andritany Ardhiyasa between the sticks they have a serious contender for player of the season. While the defence were getting used to each other there was Andritany on hand to rescue Persija time and time again with saves taken from the top drawer.

The back line ware one of the most imposing sights in Indonesian football with height and physical presence to intimidate the small, slightly built but agile local strikers. At the heart of the defence Brazilian William Pachecho has been a revelation. This guy is massive and has chipped in with a few goals along the way, forming an ever improving partnership with the veteran Maman Abdurahman. 

Its not all about age and experience. Left sided Rezaldi Hehanusa has come in and performed consistently well over the season and the 22 year old , happy birthday today, has been rewarded for his efforts by national team coach Luis Milla who has played him against Puerto Rico and Cambodia. 

Now of course Persija can look forward to a bright future. Despite sitting sixth in Liga 1 with a game remaining, thanks to Bhayangkara, PSM and Persipura not receiving AFC licensing they could well be representing Indonesia in the AFC Cup next year. They can also look forward to returning to a renovated Bung Karno Stadium once the Asian Games have finished and the extra cash flow that entails. And stable management off the field are finally realising the potential in their football club which has, in recent years, been seen as a lesson how not to run a club.

To think, had the club bowed to fan pressure Teco would have been long gone and who knows where the Macan Kemayoran would be now!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

 

Bambang Responds To Disallowed Goal Controversy

Bambang Pamungkas holds a unique position in the football pantheon. He is perhaps the one player respected across the length and breadth of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia. Bepe, as he is nicknamed, is Indonesia's Mohammed Saleh, Omar Abdulrahman, George Best, Franz Beckanbauer. He is perhaps the only footballer a humble noodle vendor or a western educated high flying businessman might recognise.

He is intelligent, articulate and cares deeply about the game. He works with the players union, APPI, trying to educate players about their rights and responsibilities to the game and their employers as well as how to negotiate the tricky world of contracts.

Bambang posts videos of him playing the piano and gives cookery tips, a passion of his. Yep, he is not your usual footballer. Hell, I have even spoken to Persib supporters who said they would welcome him should he ever forsake the Persija orange for the Bandung blue; he wouldn't out of respect to the Persija support who have cheered him for some 15 years.

And now Bambang has got caught up in the controversey surrounding the recent meeting between the two bitter foes. For when Chad striker Ezechiel N''Douassel scored what he felt was a perfectly good goal, the net rippled(!), Bambang had a good view of the event. As Persib celebrated video evidence seems to show Bambang hurrying to the centre circle as if he felt it was a goal.

The ref of course disallowed the goal and irate Persib fans took to social media to complain Bambang should have done the sporting thing and told the ref that in his view yes it was a goal. It would still have been down to the Australian referee to make a decision of course but at least, so went the Bobotoh thinking, Bambang could have made a stand.

Bambang has since written a post explaining why he didn't take any action in the cauldron of a feisty derby and full credit to him for doing so. Not many players would do the same but then not many players share the highest pedastal with him.

What we need to do is accept there are two Bambangs. The one many in football would like him to be, that rare voice of sanity in an asylum where it seems too often the lunatics have taken charge. Many, and I include myself, are crying out for someone untainted to rise from the dressing room and cast his purity over the game, magically ending match-fixing allegations, giving succor to honest match officials and telling errant supporters to put away their parangs.

And then there is a Bambang who plays for a football club and is trying to win every game he plays in for his employer and his supporters. The difference is so great any bridging is unlikely but it is to Bambang's credit, and an indication of the respect people across football have for him, they feel he is the one to speak up when injustice occurs.

In his post Bambang asks whether any Persib player would have tried to convince the ref the goal was valid had the roles been reversed. Had for example the game was being played in Bandung, there were no Persija fans present, the visitors had been taken to the game inside an armoured personnel carrier. If, for example, Bruno Lopes had scored for Persija and the ref disallowed it, as the home support rejoiced would an Atep or a Hariono have approached the ref and said, sorry mate you got it wrong?

Bambang goes on to suggest any person brave enough to have confronted the ref, risking the ire of his team mates and supporters, and said the goal was good would be possessed of wings and worthy of a FIFA Fair Play Award. 'Last time I checked, unfortunately I am still human' said the 37 year old striker.

Yes sir, you are still human. As is Paolo di Canio. The firey Italian was playing for West Ham United and with the Everton goalkeeper on the ground after failing to clear the ball and twisting his knee, was presented with an opportunity to score. Instead he caught the ball and gestured to the injured keeper suggesting he receive treatment. He was rewarded with a bollocking from his manager in the dressing room, worldwide praise for his actions and the FIFA Fair Play Award. And no one is suggesting di Canio is an angel!

As a footballing romantic I would like to have seen Bambang at least do the honourable thing. But as an Arsenal fan, had one of our players told the match officials a Spurs goal, which had been disallowed, was good I know I wouldn't be praising his honesty. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

 

Good 'Evans. Shaun The Meek Leaves Persib Fuming After Disaster Showing

Controversy is never far away when Persija and Persib meet. Earlier in the season fan disorder in Bandung resulted in a Persib fan being beaten to death inside the stadium. Other 'events' in recent years can be found in this post I wrote some 15 months ago. When these two teams meet something invariably happens and I'm not talking about a football match.

It was Persija's turn to host Persib yesterday and Liga 1 decided in their infinite wisdom the game should be played in Solo to minimise the risk of violence. They also decreed Persib fans should not be allowed to travel to the game. Persija fans did of course, in their thousands.

One innovation in Liga 1 this season has been the introduction of foreign referees for some games, the feeling being local refs may not always be the most reliable when it comes to big decisions in high pressure games. Not every one has been in favour of foreign whistleblowers with, perhaps ironically, PSMs Dutch coach Robert Alberts arguing for other measure to clamp down on dodgy decisions by the men in the middle.

So there we have it. Persija hosting Persib in the neutral city of Solo with an Australian referee, Shaun Evans, and no away fans present. Surely this most intense of games should pass off fairly peacably? What on earth could go wrong?

Do not underestimate Indonesian football's ability to take whatthefuckery to new levels. After all this is land of three leagues, two national teams, two players' unions, three Persemas last season and who knows what else over the years?

Early in the first half and Persija's veteran striker Rudi Widodo comes flying in on Persib's tigerish midfield player Kim Kurniawan forcing the German born player to leave the field and head straight to hospital. Remember, we are only a couple of weeks on from burying Persela's keeper Choirul Huda after he was on the receiving end of a much more innocuous one that clattered Kim. The ref gave Rudi a yellow card and Persib were seething.

Before the half hour mark and Persib were positively irate. Chad striker Ezechiel N'Douassel heads the ball in to the ground and rises up over the despairing reach of Persija keeper Andritany and in to the roof of the net. N'Douassel wheels away in triumph, former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essian punches the air in triumph. Persib had taken the lead against their bitterest foe. Or so they thought. The Australian ref says it was no goal! The ball rippled the fucking net! And, interestingly, Bambang Pamungkas, arguably the most respected player in the country, appears to be heading back to the centre circle. He was close enough to see what had happened.

As one the Persib players surrounded the match officials but of course they were not going to change their mind. First they had lost one of their key players, no they had a goal chalked off, the game was less than 30 minutes and things were not going their way. Surely the whole point of having foreign match officials is to assure players and supporters a game is going to be played in a fair and just manner? And here we have two game changing decisions in the first 30 minutes favouring one team over another under the auspices of foreign match officials!

In the second half the ref awarded Persija a penalty and followed that up with giving Persib defender Vladimir Vujovic a red card after giving Bruno Lopes a tug outside the penalty area and that was too much for the visiting team. The straw that broke the camel's back?

It is too early to consider whether the experiment with foreign refs continues but after the Shaun Evans horror show in Solo no doubt questions will be asked. Certainly Persib will have a thing or two to say about it. Suffice to say the Aussie whistler won't be a popular man should he ever venture down in West Java any time soon!

Oh yeah, the game. The result leaves Persija on the cusp of a surprise AFC Cup slot and Persib looking back on a woeful run of one win in 10 games.

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