Saturday, January 21, 2017


Milla Time For Indonesia

Indonesia have appointed a new coach. His  name is Luis Milla, no relation to Cameroonian striker Roger Milla who played for Pelita Jaya, and he comes from Spain. The 50 year old coach played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as picking up three caps for his country in 1989/90. As a coach his last gig was with Real Zaragoza, don't mention the halfway line, and he has also worked with various national age groups. In 2013 he had a spell with UAE side Al Jazira, his only stint outside of his native land.

It certainly is an out of the box appointment. Not since Wim Rijsbergen was appointed back in 2011 has the PSSI chosen a coach without any background in the local game. It is questionable whether Wim learned much while he was in charge anyway, it being at a time of two leagues and instability.

With a two year contract Milla will also be in charge of the SEA Games squad later this year and this no doubt will be foremost in his in tray when he starts work next month. The full squad, buoyed from reaching the ASEAN Football Federation Championship Final last year before losing to Thailand, have plenty of blank dates in their diary and with most of the rest of Asia looking forward to Asian Cup/World Cup Qualifiers during the year it could prove difficult to find meaningful, ie beyond ASEAN borders, opponents.

Outgoing coach Alfred Riedl had his hands tied going into the AFF Championships as clubs stipulated they would allow no more than two players to be released from their ranks. It remains to be seen whether they play such hard ball with official competition returning in March.

An unfamiliar environment, an unfamiliar language, an unfamiliar diet, Milla won't have much time to adapt to the Indonesian way of doing things. In fact it could be argued his appointment suggests a fresh approach. However he will still need a few tips and hints to smooth his arrival in the country and with the experienced Danurwindo as his technical director he will be working with someone who does know the game inside out.

Typically in this day and age coaches move around with more baggage than a single checked in piece on their flight over. Milla, with his experiences in Europe, may well be expecting/hoping he can choose too bring along assistants of his own choosing. As of now it is not clear if he will be allowed to do so.

With the FIFA suspension lifted and several young players making their mark at the AFF Championships, Milla will be arriving at a time when goodwill is quite high. How long it will last remains to be seen. Indonesians will be expecting an improvement on their runners up spot in Bangkok last year and not matter how unrealistic that may be considering the circumstances Milla would be doing himself a heap big favour if he can get a couple of wins under his belt at the tsrat of his career here.


Timor Leste Face AFC Wrath

Days after the Chinese government told Super League clubs to reign in their sending, in AFC/FIFA land this is not for some reason considered government interference, comes the news the AFC have kicked Timor Leste out of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 for playing illegal foreigners in international matches since 2011.

There have been suspicions for a while the country had been playing games. Their line ups frequently featured Brazilian players who had become Timor Leste nationals in order to bolster the national team. The idea of importing players for national glory is nothing new of course. It is a path Singapore has taken before and Qatar continues to take. But there are ways of doing it and it seems Timor Leste broke the rules.

Timor Leste are accused of using 12 illegal players in a variety of games including AFC and FIFA  recognised games as well as non official games. As some of the games were played against Indonesia it is worthy of highlighting the who, where, when and what etc.

07/07/12 AFC Under 22. 3 illegal players
14/11/12 Friendly. 2 illegal players
14/12/13 SEA Games. 4 illegal players
15/09/14 Asian Games. 3 illegal players
11/09/14 Friendly. 4 illegal players.

A number of players also played in Indonesia during this period. Of course a Timor Leste national would find it easier to get a work permit than a Brazilian.

Players with links to Indonesian clubs. (Only South East Asian teams mentioned.)

Paulo Helber Rose Ribeiro (Dili United, Lanexang United, Bhayangkara)
Diogo Santos Rangel (Sriwjjaya, Gresik United, Osotspa, Songkhla United, Timor Leste U23 SEA Games 2011))
Paulo Cesar da Silva (Songkhla United, PSM)
Felipe Bertoldo (Mitra Kukar)
Jaime Braganca (Chonburi, PDRM, Persija (IPL))

One other player who was named as playing illegally for Timor Leste was Patrick Fabiano who I saw play several times for Kazma in Kuwait.

I'm not sure if the players will face any sanction or not. Surely they must have been aware of the corner cutting being carried out on their behalf?  I guess they were so thrilled at the prospect of becoming an international footballer the excitement blurred the lines between honest and dishonest.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Familiar Coaches Return To Indonesian Scene

The traditional managerial go round is coming to an end as Indonesian sides start the serious preparations for the new campaign. Incidentally the Indonesian Super League will be known as Liga i, Divisi Utama Liga 2, Nusantara League will be Liga 3 and so on.

Anyway a new season and a new hope for supporters of every team as  they look forward to a new coach, new players and of course new replica shirts to purchase.

One set of supporters can feel more excited than most. Barito Putera have hired the most successful foreign coach in Jacksen F Tiago. Coming off the back of a spell in Malaysia where he guided Penang back to the top flight, Tiago has won titles with Persebaya and Persipura. If anyone knows the ins and outs of the game in Indonesia it is the Brazilian who also played for a number of sides including Persebaya.

With a three year deal in his pocket Tiago will be expected to have Barito Putera challenging the established big boys within a short time and while last season may have been marked by inconsistency he can at least rely on the likes of Hansamu and Rizky Pora, fresh off their ASEAN Foootball Federation Championships exploits, to carry on their good deeds of 2016. However he will have to do without the goals of compatriate Luis Carlos Junior who has moved to Madura United.

Simon McMenemy is another familiar face returning to Indonesia after a spell abroad, most recently in Philippines. He has had previous stints with Mitra Kukar and Pelita Bandung Raya and now takes over Bhayangkara and inherits a young side that exceeded expectations last year when they finished seventh with a mostly young squad but heavily reliant on the goals and guile of imports Thiago Furtuoso, Otavio Dutra and Rudi Widodo.

While McMenemy will no doubt be heavily dependent on his experienced players there is little doubt he won't  be thrilled at the opportunity or working with the likes of Evan Dimas, Muchlis Hadi and Maldini Pali, the latter two arriving from PSM as they seek to combine a football career with one in the police force.

The club are aiming high, giving their new coach a target of finishing in the top three but after three days with his new charges McMenemy is feeling enthused enough to claim a top two target is realistic. He should get his first opportunity to see how his methods have been taken on board when Bhayangkara 'host' the Trofeo Bhayangkara in Solo. The club are hoping Arema will join in and Home United were also expected to attend but AFC Cup commitmments may have some influence on whether they travel or not.

The third familiar face is Timo Scheuneumann. The East Java born German takes over Persiba for the new season and has the added bonus of seeing the team relocate to Malang for their home games. His last stint coaching a club side wwas when he worked with Persema in the old Liga Primer Indinesia when he built an exciting side around the likes of Irfan Bachdim, Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan, Robbie Gaspar and the experienced Bima Sakti. Indeed Sakti, who was his coach back then, will now be his assistant on the training field and will provide some continuity having held the same position last year with the club under Jaino Matos.

As is often the case with Persiba finances will be tight, especially as they commute between Malang and Balikpapan and even before Timo had set up his own password on the company laptop it was announced Shohei Matsunaga, the one shining light in a disappointing campaign in 2016, was off to Persib. His goals will be a big loss though the club have moved quickly by signing Marlon da Silva from Mitra Kukar.

Football being football the hope and expectations that always accompany pre season will soon fade to disappointment and anger. Let us hope this new fresh odor that is creeping across Indonesian extends to club managements and they give their new coaches time. Surprisingly each of the three coaches in this post have been given multiple year contracts but always there is that dreaded 'evaluasi' word looming over their necks, a slient presence, often hidden by the smiles and high fives that greet a win but there all the same.


Persib Release Yatno Basna

By any measure the last few months have been quite remarkable for the Sorong born defender Yatno Basna. He broke into the Persib first team, was called up by the national team and went on to play at the ASEAN Football Federation Championships in Manila for Indonesia. Not bad for a 21 year old defender who only made his first team debut for Mitra Kukar in the aborted 2015 Indonesia Super League.

His style of play is reminiscent of Manchester City's John Stones in that he has a preference to have the ball at feet and take his time to play his way to safety rather than go long which is the preferred option for many defenders in Indonesia. And like Stones it can cause his team mates and supporters the odd nervous twitch when it doesn't always come off.

After his impressive performances in the Philippines there was a story doing the rounds a Thai team, BEC Tero, was interested in his services but as the debate around his future deepens one can't help but wonder if that was not a bargaining chip. At the time Basna said his agent would meet the Persib management and discuss his future and his priority was to stay with the Bandung side before adding there was also interest from Malaysia in his services.

Yesterday Persib announced they would be releasing the player. The club said Basna's agent was seeking a pay rise of 300% before agreeing to a new deal. Persib are saying now and the defender can now listen to other offers.

One club rumoured to be interested in the player are Persipura but one of their officials has said if those wage demands are true they would not help Basna meet them.

Just shy of six foot tall, Basna is far from the finished article but his build and style of play are hard to find and that Indonesian coach Alfred Riedl had seen enough to place his faith in his raw talent suggests we will see much more of Basna in the future. But for now he is in the news for the wrong reasons.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Coach Timo Faces Tough Task With Persiba

It has certainly been a busy few days for Persiba Balikpapan. The Honey Bears as they are known have lost a coach and their star import, been forced to move their home base to another island, another time zone, found a new coach, found a new striker and have decided they won't be competing in a pre season tournament.

Under Brazilian coach Jaino Matos they struggled to find any consistency and their total of 38 goals scored during the Indonesia Soccer Championship 2016 was one of the lowest recorded in the division. Certainly players with big reputations like Syamsir Alam and Okta Maniani failed to deliver and without the 13 goals of Japanese import Shohei Matsunaga it could have been a very poor season indeed.

With the season ended the club cast around for a replacement coach and it wasn't long before ex West Ham player Peter Butler's name was linked with the club having worked their before. He vehemently denied the link and it was soon announced Brazilian Osvaldo Lessa would be taking over. The one time assistant to Jacksen F Tiago at Persipura had only a short stint in the hot seat at the Black Pearls behind him and soon the club were backtracking saying in fact he hadn't be selected.

While the debate surrounding a future coach was going on Matsunaga announced he would be returning to Persib for a second stint. The 28 year old attacking midfielder from Japan had first signed for the Maung Banding un 2011 and after his performances in the ISC it was no surprise he was the target of a bigger club.

Persiba meanwhile decided Timo Scheunemann would lead the team in the rebranded Liga 1 in 2017 with Bima sakti continuing in his role as understudy. It is the German coach's first club appointment since his time with Persema when they were in the Liga Primer Indonesia back in 2011 and the first thing in his in tray was to find a goalscorer.

With Persiba Stadium unavailable for the team this season Persiba also cast around looking for a new stadium. They have decided to use Gajjayana Stadium in Malang, close to where coach Timo lives, while they wait for their new stadium to be finished. With a home town on one island and a stadium in another requiring a flight and a two or three hour bus ride it remains to be seen how Persiba's pre season preparations will be impacted.

There is already talk the club will not join the pre season president Cup if, as suggested, it goes ahead at the end of this month or early February. Timo says he feels his squad won't be ready so soon and while he is open to competing if it is held at a later date as things stand they won't join.

It's a squad that needs a lot of work. While one or two young players came in and did a good job in difficult circumstances last year Timo knows he will need a lot more experience in the squad going into what will certainly be a tougher competition. Striker Marlon da Silva has come in from Mitra Kukar in a bid to replace the experience and goals of Matsunaga but more is needed and with funds tight Timo will know he has his work cut out if Persiba are to make an impact in the upper reaches of the table.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


The Mixed Experiences Of Singaporeans Abroad

I'm a big fan of players and coaches getting out of their comfort zone and working in new environments. Alien sights and sounds, different perspectives may not always make you better at your job, they should, but they help you grow as a person. The world extends beyond your village and while the grass may not be greener at least you get to try different grass.

It is a big bee in my bonnet that not more try and sample life overseas and is something I have touched upon once or twice. Players like Fandi Ahmad and Bambang Pamungkas had the opportunity to try their luck in Europe but for one reason or another decided they wanted to ply their trade closer to home. Current Thai coach Kiatisuk was of a generation who sought self improvement overseas, in his case Singapore for a few years, and Thai football is benefiting from his pioneering experiences.

More recently we have seen Singaporeans in demand north of the causeway with Hariss Harun signing for Johor Darul Takzim and Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khazian turning out for Johor Darul Taksim II while Safuwan Bahruddin headed to PDRM. Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny has just returned from a two year spell with Army United while ex Young Lions, LionsXII and Tampines Rovers defender Hafiz Abu Sujad has made the journey north to play for second tier side BBCU. 

If we are honest with ourselves none of those teams are particularly glamourous. JDT II are what they say on the tin for example. Are they a team who can be promoted given then the potential for facing off against JDT in the top flight? Crowds are low in Malaysia's second tier and atmosphere at games much like what you might expect on the outer planets of our solar system but surely the benefits for Shahril and Bahaikki, beyond the financial, can only benefit Singapore football down the line?

They are part of a club that is laying down the foundations to be a regional powerhouse for years to come. Professionalism at all levels surely will rub off on these two experienced players and perhaps, should they ever consider a career in coaching, what they witnessed in the evolution of a super club can only hold them in good stead as well as looking good on their resumes.

Safuwan's situation is different. After having a positive loan spell with Melbourne City in the ALeague he elected to join Malaysian side PDRM for the rest of the 2016 season. Quite why the versatile goal scoring defender/midfielder would opt for the Malaysian police force side, no disrespect intended, is beyond me. Were there no better offers on the table? That he should extend his stay for 2017 is equally baffling. Perhaps his status, he remains under contract to the Football Association of Singapore, effected how other clubs viewed him.

His strong performances weren't enough to save the Cops and he will now play in the second tier watched by even smaller crowds than would have seen the PDRM games last season. There was talk of Kedah taking an interest but that fizzled out. But where were the Thai or Indonesian teams for this most consistent of performers? Is the contract with FAS a millstone round his neck? Honestly, I don't know but it is frustrating to see such a fine player not getting the stage his talents deserve. From Melbourne City to PDRM?

The intimidating atmosphere at a Chula United game
Now we have Hafiz Abu Sujad beginning a Thai adventure. Once upon a time Sinthana were one of the biggest Thai teams. back in the days before political types got involved. They won the league in 1998 and went on to compete in the Asian Champions League. But they struggled to survive as an entity and merged with a university to become Chula Sinthana just as money flowed into the game with the arrival of Muang Thong United and Buriram United.

Apart from a couple of spells in the Premier League, including when they played at the Rajamangala Stadium in front of crowds of less than 1000, they have found their niche as a yo yo side and last season finished bottom of the top flight after just one season. Hafiz, like Safuwan, is joining a side that has just got relegated.

For all the sycophancy that gets thrown at the Thai league the strength does not extend beyond perhaps half a dozen clubs. BBCU will be playing against the likes of Air Force Central, Army United and PTT Rayong. It is almost as if Thai football stopped in the 1990s. For Hafiz, an international, it seems a strange move. But an understandable one when you consider his cousin is none other than Fandi. Perhaps to play overseas is part of his football DNA. But aged 26, he should be at the peak of his career, is a move from Tampines where the dreams are of the SLeague and the AFC Cup, is a move to a second tier team in Thailand a step forward career wise?

Last but not least we have the curious tale of Hariss Harun. This guy was marked down as one for the future years back and after impressing for LionsXII it was no surprise when he signed for JDT, turning down a move to Portugal. He has impressed with JDT and signed a two year deal back in November 2015. Now, however, it appears to be over. A week or so before Christmas JDT announced Hariss was surplus to requirements and they were actively seeking to send him out on loan with Portugal and Japan possible destinations. That particular story has gone quiet and with just over a week to the start of the new season it appears Hariss is still with the Malaysian side.

Whatever the merits of Hafiz move to unfancied BBCU he will certainly find out quite a bit about himself over the next few months. At least he can pick the brain of Hassan Sunny for tips about living in Bangkok. 


Experience Has Its Place But Coaches Need To Trust In Youth More

One of the decisions that came out from the recent PSSI conference referred to the age limit of players, implementing an upper age limit of 35 in the Indonesia Super League.

Now for a while I have been saying there aren't enough young players coming through and one reason for that is perhaps clubs prefer to go safety first and choose and experienced old pro rather than give a young player a chance.

But to mandate a player must retire because they reach a number? I don't think that is the way to go. Surely it is down to clubs to be savvier in their recruitment policies. Yes, there are some journeymen pros out there living off their reputations which faded a good few years back.

At the same time there are some pretty good fiddle players out there to paraphrase an old saying. For example look at Sriwijaya's all Brazilian strike force of Hilton Moreira and Alberto Goncalves. Past it? Not on your nelly. I saw them play a few times and they never gave less than 100% a game and of course Goncalves was the top scorer in the Indonesia Soccer Championship.

The 36 year old arrived in Indonesia in 2007 and apart from a short spell in Penang has been here ever since. He was top scorer in the Indonesia Cup in 2007. Inter Island Cup 2011. Indonesia Super League 2011. ISC 2016. Do we want to be putting that type of experience and consistency out to pasture just because of some randomly produced number?

And if we think old players are stunting the development of younger players let us look again at Sriwijaya. 22 year old keeper Teja Paku Alam was a regular last season. 21 year old Ichsan Kurniawan impressed when he was given a run out. How much would they have learnt from training with and playing alongside the experienced Brazilians?

Redusing the number of foreigners in each team is a good thing and one the English premier League should consider. But I am less enthusiastic about age limits. We need more coaches like Sriwijaya's Widodo Cahyo Putro who are willing to give youth a chance, as was PSM's Robert Alberts, and not just really on any 30 something with creaking knees who has been round the block too often.

Like so much it comes down to patience. Are club owners and supporters patient enough to allow a coach to develop young players

Monday, January 09, 2017


Alberts Deserves Coach Of Year Award After PSM Turnaround

Anyone who saw PSM Makassar at the start of the Indonesia Soccer Championship would have seen a team playing without conviction or belief. Coach Luciano Leandro was feeling the heat from day one and even though his team did defeat Persela Lamongan 2-1 in their second game of the season it was hardly a performance to set the pulses racing among the home support and following a loss away to Perseru Serui the Brazilian became the first coaching casualty of the season.

Following a short stint as caretaker by Tony Ho PSM turned to Dutch coach Robert Alberts to turn their season around. The experienced Alberts, most recently in charge of Malaysian side Sarawak, knew all about Indonesian football having guided Arema to the Indonesia Super League title back in 2009/10 but that was with a side brimming with talent and confidence.

PSM were a different kettle of fish and indeed if anyone was expecting a sudden turnaround in fortunes for the team from South Sulawesi they were in for a shock as the Eastern Roosters were only able to chalk up a single victory in Alberts’ first eight games in charge, striker Ferdinand Sinaga scoring a brace as PSM came from behind to defeat Persiba Balikpapan 3-2.

To be sure, Alberts had inherited a squad low on confidence. However he had started his spell in charge ruthlessly by dropping all four of the foreign players who had started the season yet who had underwhelmed the PSM faithful.

With the transfer window a couple of months away that move allowed Alberts to promote younger, more hungry players while he scouted the market for new recruits when the window opened in August. Evidence of a turnaround in PSM’s fortunes came early in July when the side unluckily lost 3-2 away to Persib Bandung. Muchlis Hadi’s equaliser on 81 minutes looked to have rescued a point for the team only for a late goal from the home side by Purwaka Yudhi to deprive them of a point. But PSM had impressed for much of the game with strong performances from the likes of Muchlis, Rasyid Bakri and Ardan Aras.

It could be argued Alberts was given that most precious of commodities, time, by the PSM management. But he also came to the club with a plan in place as we witnessed when he moved swiftly to axe the import players.

By August he had the team playing the way he wanted and they embarked on a 10 match unbeaten run, a fine head of steam that meant the addition of new import players, Luis Ricardo Lino Dos Santos, Paulo Cesar Da Silva Martins, Ronald Hikspoors and Willem Jan Pluim, could be introduced gradually into a winning team. As well as the foreign players Alberts recruited former SEA Games striker Titus Bonai to renew his partnership with a flourishing Sinaga.

The latter had started the campaign looking out of sorts in a poor side but as the season wore on he had become ever more influential, his spikey character, willingness to run at players and never say die character making him a handful for opponents. In fact so complete was Sinaga’s resurrection he was recalled to the national team by Alfred Riedl at the end of the year for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Arema ended PSM’s unbeaten run PSM beat Sriwijaya 2-1 thanks to a late winner from Sinaga before being trounced 4-1 by a rampant Pusamania after taking the lead. A final charge at the end of the campaign saw a seven game winning streak only ended by Persipura Jayapura who put them to the sword in the final game, winning 4-2 to be crowned champions.

PSM ended the season in 6th place and the plaudits rang in Alberts’ ears. Typically the coach of the year is awarded to the guy who takes a team to the title but Alberts breaks the mould. He went in to the football club, made some tough decisions, placed his faith in youth and was rewarded for his efforts by receiving this award and even being linked with the national team position.

Despite the rumoured links with the Indonesian job he is firmly looking forward to the new season and has already being linked with Jong Ajax striker Ezra Walian and defender Zulkifli Syukur. PSM are the oldest professional football club in Indonesia but their fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years. Alberts has given them something to smile about and they will be hoping the coach of the year will be around in 2017 to build on the progress the club made last year.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


PSSI Meeting In Bandung

Ok so the new look PSSI held their annual meeting in Bandung today and a few things were decided.

National team coach - despite Indonesia's progress to the final of the ASEAN Football Federation Championships coach Alfred Riedl will not have his contract renewed. Instead, according to the PSSI, a couple of Spanish born coaches are in the mix to replace him. Luis Fernandez may have been born in Spain but he grew up in France and was part of the national team which won the Euros in 1984 when they were boringly called the European Championships. He was part of a midfield which featured Jean Tigana and Michel Platini so his pedigree ain't that bad.

Since hanging up his boots he has coached teams in France, Spain, Qatar and Israel as well as the Israeli and Guinea national sides. So confident is Wikipedia Fernandez has the job they have already announced it!

He hasn't got the job yet. He is up against a proper Spanish guy in Luis Milla who may be a less familiar name to many. He played for Barcelona and Real Madrid and since turning to coaching has worked with a number of age groups for the Spanish national team before a spell in Abu Dhabi. Wikipedia seems to be hedging its bets as they have listed Milla as the next Indonesia coach as well!

The idea seems to be whoever takes over the national team will also be responsible for the Under 23s in what will be a busy year with the SEA Games on the near horizon. A decision could be made as soon as tomorrow, Wikipedia allowing!

PSSI also have a couple of candidates lined up for the national Under 19 team. Wolfgang Pikal is a long time resident of Indonesia, speaks the language and of course has worked with Riedl on a number of occasions. Indra Sjafri, currently with Bali United, is the other name in the frame. Indra of course coached the Under 19s recently, well a couple of years back, when they won the AFF Under 19 Championships which saw them on the road to Myanmar.

Two names put forward for the Under 15s are Rudy Eka Priyambada and Fachri Husaini. Rudy is an ambitious young coach who I met and interviewed in Bahrain in 2015. He has been doing a good job with new side Celebest FC who reached the finals of the recent Indonesia Soccer Championship B. Fachri has had a number of jobs with the PSSI since his side Bontang fell off the football map a few years ago.

The return of the seven - Thousands of Persebaya fans headed to Bandung to remind PSSI members of their existence if not their football club's and they were given plenty to celebrate as  their side will return to Indonesian football in the coming season. Putting aside the Persebaya/Persebaya United/Bonek United/Surabaya United abomination that has been masquerading as Surabaya's top football club in recent years, the infamous Bonek can look forward to life in Divisi Utama in 2017. Their football club last kicked a ball in anger in 2013 in the final days of the ill starred Liga Primer Indonesia but the fans have kept up the pressure to see their good name restored to its rightful place.

Other familiar names will also be making a return to the football scene. Persipasi kind of disappeared when they weren't allowed to use their new stadium in Bekasi and they merged with Pelita Bandung Raya for a short stint before being bought out and moved to Madura to become Madura United. Arema Indonesia, Persema, Persibo, Persewangi and Lampang FC will be joining Persipasi in the Nusantara League, Indonesia's third tier.

Arema Indonesia are of course different to Arema who came second in the ISC and suffered from a falling off in attendances over the season. It remains to be seen what kind of crowds Arema Indonesia attract. It goes without saying Persema won't have fans queuing for miles when they return to the Nusantara League though.

New season - the Indonesia Super League kicks off 26 March and will feature 18 teams. As far as I can make out the status of Bhayangkara and PS TNI hasn't changed so can we expect them to be in the ISL? Each club is allowed two foreign players plus one Asian player.

Divisi Utama kicks off a week earlier with no foreign players. Who needs them? With clubs like Persebaya, Persis, PSIS, PSS and PSIM we can look forward to some monster games and attendances! Divisi Utama 2018 will have two conferences of 12 teams each so expeect a long drawn out season with plenty of tension and controversy.

All in all it seems to have been a positive meeting with things decided and plans laid down for the future. Let's see what the future brings!

Monday, January 02, 2017


Ajax Youth Dreams Of Wearing Indonesian Shirt

A 19 year old enjoying a year end holiday in Indonesia has been attracting an inordinate amount of column inches in local football papers. Ezra Walian is his name and he plays for Jong Ajax, the Dutch giants second string team. He has also represented the Netherlands at a number of age group levels. Hardly reason enough for all the headlines. But all the local interest, and it goes right to the sports ministry, revolves around the fact Walian's old man hails from Manado, a city in North Sulawesi.

The young striker is under contract to Ajax for the rest of the season and has made no secret of his affection for Indonesia or his desire to line up for the land of his father. Back in 2014 he was asking if Indonesia had an Under 17 side on social media! And following a trial game over the last couple of days the sports minister has proposed Ezra be put forward for naturalisation. If this is fast tracked could we see the Ajax alumni in the SEA Games later this year?

Walian says even though he has played at a number of levels for the Netherlands it has long been his dream to play for Indonesia. 'I'm not going to lie. I really want to be an Indonesian. I feel comfortable when I come here.'

He played for 45 minutes in an exhibition game at a military base which was watched by a number of PSSI officials including new head Edy Rahmayadi. But that was not his first experience of playing in South East Asia. Back in 2012 he was part of the Ajax B2 side that played in the Lion City Cup in Singapore where he scored seven goals including two against Manchester City and two in the final against the hosts.

Also lining up in the game in Cijantung was Martunis who made headlines around the world after he survived the Aceh tsunami and was photographed wearing a Cristiano Ronaldo shirt. The Portuguese later got in touch and arranged for him to join the Sporting Lisbon academy.

Martunis's contract in Lisbon ended in June and he is still waiting to hear of it will be extended or not! While he waits there are clubs from Indonesia and Malaysia reportedly waiting in the wings to sign him.

While Ezra returns to the Netherlands to resume training with Jong Ajax Indonesian embassies across Europe and the Middle East have been told to look out for promising young footballers who could join the national team set up with a couple of possibilities apparently with Valencia CF.and Andri Syahputra in Qatar.

Whether this means we can expect another flood of naturalised players in the national team remains to be seen. We have been here before with the likes of Kim Kurniawan, Greg Nwokolo and Bio Paulin. Yet when it came to the recent AFF Suzuki Cup Indonesian reached the final with a side cobbled together by coach Alfred Riedl without any 'imported' players.

With Ezra's holiday over he may disappear from the sports pages for a while. But his desire to play for Indonesia seems sincere and with the sports ministry starting the ball rolliing it could be a matter of time before he has the opportunity to wear the merah putih.

Friday, December 30, 2016


Arema's 'Arek Malang' Aroma

After missing out on the Indonesia Soccer Championship Arema are hoping an off and on the field shake up will help them better prepare for the Indonesia Super League 2017. 

For starters they have dropped the name of their sponsors but as I have never used that it is no big deal. 

More pertinent is the changes they have made to their backroom staff with coach Milomir Seslija leaving despite guiding the club to second place.

In has come Aji Santoso, a former Indonesia international who had two spells with Arema from 1987 - 1995 and 2002 - 2004. He was born in the city and has surrounded himself with a coaching team steeped in the psyche of the city and the football club.

He has brought in three assistants. Joko Susilo also had two spells with the Crazy Lions while Singgih Pitono was twice top scorer for the club in the days before the Liga Indonesia. Joining them is Kuncoro, a former Arema right back. Completing the coaching set up is goalie specialist Yanuar Hermasyah. He too was born in Malang and played for the club from 1996-1997.

Aji Santoso born Malang played 87-95 & 02-04
Joko Susilo played 92-95 & 98-03
Singgih Pitono played 92-94
Kuncoro born Malang played 91-96 & 01
Yanuar Hermansyah born Malang played 96-97

At least there wont be any problems with the coaching staff needing time to adapt!

In more news Arema keeper Ahmad Kurniwan is in hospital in a coma. Get well soon AK.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Book Update

I was really chuffed to get my hands on a sample copy of my first book yesterday. I met up with the publisher and translater in a bar in South Jakarta and giddy at having my words in a printed form I must admit I did chuck a few down my neck.

We are looking to publish early in the new year...I will announce a date when I have one. Pre orders can be directed to PilihBuku,com

This is the Indonesian language version only at the moment. An English language version, covering Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore as well as Indonesia, is still looking for an outlet. 

So, keep an eye on my instagram and twitter accounts for the latest on the book and its launch date and many thanks for your is really appreciated.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Persib's Foreign Legion Fret Over Futures

When it comes to pre season planning few clubs are as on the ball as Persib. They have already snapped up Indonesian international Dedi Kusnander from Malaysian side Sabah and T Team striiker Patrick dos Santos Cruz. With chances high iconic defender Vladimir Vujovic will be retained after another impressive season and firm interest in former midfielder Makan Konateh, Diogo Ferreira, Robertinho and Marcos Flores will face a nervous few days while the club decides their fates.

Aussie defender Ferreira arrived for the second half of the season and he feels he has done enough to merit a new contract. 'From the 11 games I played with Persib partnering Vladimir in the heart of the defence we kept seven clean sheets.' However as he headed for Australia he admitted his future was most definitely uncertain. 'I've not talked to anyone about extending my contract with Persib. It's up to the manager and the coach. However I would be really happy if I can continue to play for this football club.

31 year old midfielder Flores arrived around the same time as Ferreira , managing just one goal and one assistant since first donning the Persib blue. The Argentine says he is happy with Persib and is open to extending his stay but is also realistic. 'If they don't need me any more I will move to another club.'

While Diogo and Marcos have had only a short spell in Indonesia Robertino has been around almost a decade. In that time he has played for Persija, Persiba, PSM and Persipura. The 33 year old midfielder is a known quantity and should Persib decide he is surplus to requirements he would have no shortage of suitors.

Meanshile coach Djadjang is heading to Thailand in January to complete his A licence. Indonesia Super League, and Indonesia Soccer Championship, regulations state coaches must have an A licence coach and PS TNI as well as Persija were forced to find new coaches mid season for breaching t his regulation. For some reason Persib weren't required to replace Djadjang


Bayu Pradana's Sate Dream

Mitra Kukar's Bayu Pradana impressed many at the recent AFF Suzuki Cup with his commanding performances at the heart of the Indonesian midfield. That the national team was able to show a new defensive fortitude was in part down to the partnership Bayu forged with Stefano Lilypaly just in front of the back four.

After impressing a regional audience we would imagine Bayu, much like Thailand's Chanathip Songkrasin, to have his eyes on building his career in more challenging leagues. Chanathip of course has signed an 18 month loan deal with Japanese side Consadole Sapporo.

Bayu's ambitions are more humble though. After returning from Thailand Bayu has been helping out at his parent's sate stall in Central Java and the 26 year old has made no secret of wanting to follow in his parent's footsteps.

'Next month I will fulfill my dream of opening my own sate stall,' he said in a recent interview. When he was asked if he felt it was a bit of a come down from the AFF final, that he felt a bit embarrassed he replied by saying 'why should I feel embarrassed? ...I really enjoy it.'

Now I don't for a minute want to suggest Bayu and Chanathip are on the same level as players. What is instructive is we have a Thai player who is willing to try somewhere new, something the likes of his national team coach Zico did 20 odd years ago, while an Indonesian is more content to stay close to his family.

Not judging, it's just the way it is for so many players. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Indonesia Soccer Championship In Numbers

1 - Persipura 34 20 8 6 53-27 68
2 - Arema     34 18 10 6 46-22 64
3 - Madura United 34 18 7 9 56-40 61
4 - Sriwijaya 34 15 11 8 62-39 56

25 - Alberto Goncales (Sriwijaya)
21 - Marcel Sacremento (Semen Padang)
17 - Luis Carlos Junior (Barito Putera)
16 - Marlon Silva (Mitra Kukar)

Most wins - Persipura (20)
Most draws - Persija (11)
Most losses - PS TNI (22)
Most goals scored - Sriwjaya, Pusamania (62)
Least goals scored - Persija (25)
Most goals conceded - PS TNI (75)
Least goals conceded - Arema (22)
Unbeaten at home - Persib, Perseru
Winless away - Semen Padang, Barito Putera, PS TNI
Most home goals scored - Pusamania (45)
Most home goals conceded - PS TNI (31)
Least home goals scored - Persija (15)
Least home goals conceded - Perseru (5)
Most away goals scored Sriwijaya (26)
Least away goals scored Persija, Semen Padang (10)
Most away goals conceded - Perseru (46)
Least away goals conceded - Persipura (14)
Largest crowd - Persija v Semen Padang 50,117
Smallest crowd - Persija 0 v several teams

Monday, December 19, 2016


Persipura Lift Indonesia Soccer Championship

There is something relentless about Persipura when they hit their stride. Their 4-2 victory over PSM yesterday at a rain sodden Mandala Stadium ensured they lifted the first, and perhaps only, Indonesia Soccer Champions, a trophy that had long seemed destined for Arema or Madura United.

Six straight wins at the business end of the season. Eight wins out of their last 10 games. It is a cliche but when the goings gets tough the tough get going. Lifting the trophy means the Black Pearls have finished first or second in every campaign since the Indonesia Super League was introduced in 2008/2009. And that they should have been crowned champions without the services of iconic striker Boas Solossa says much about the strength on depth accumulated out east.

Under new coach Jafri Sastra the season hadn't started especially brightly by the clubs own high standards, drawing their first two home games of the season against Bali United and Persija before losing 2-0 away to Semen Padang. Two points from nine games is not championship form but Persipura were struggling for their trademark consistency, perhaps caused by their absence from so many of the pre ISC tournaments.

A corner was turned when they narrowly edged strugglers Persela 1-0 heralding a run of four straight wins but their were concerns within the football club the imports weren't performing, especially experienced Liberian strikers James Koko Lomell and Eddy Boakay Foday who had provided just two goals in the opening 11 games.

Persipura responded ruthlessly with Jafri returning to Mitra Kukar, Alfred Angel Vera coming in and the foreign legion changed with Edward Wilson Junior among others being added to the squad in the mid season break. The rest, as they say, is history.

Boas ended the season with 11 goals, Wilson and Ferinindo Pahabol with seven each.

Switching horses mid stream is always a gamble in football. Get it right and you are a hero. Get it wrong and you face being villified. For sure Persipura benefitted from an Arema side who led for much of the campaign but did so without looking convincing while the exciting Madura United  paid the price for poor form on the road, losing six of their last seven on their travels.

But there is an element of an ustoppable machine about Persipura when they get going. Even without Boas yesterday they were too much for a PSM who had done much to feel pleased about themselves in the second half of the campaign under Robert Alberts. But first half goals from Pahabol (two), Wilson and Osvaldo Ardiles meant they could take the foot off the gas second half. The title was theirs.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


No Post Mortem But Planning For The Future Must Start Now

So at the end it was just a game to far. Indonesia's journey to the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2016 was an achievement in itself. Finally, when that final push was needed, they were unable to come from behind for a third time against the best team in ASEAN and had to make do with a runners up place; for the fifth time. Heartbreak? Perhaps but with honour intact.

The national team fly home to Jakarta and while a heroes welcome may not be awaiting them at Soerkano Hatta Airport the players and the coaching staff deserve a moment or two to bask in the moment of what they did achieve against the odds. This time there may be no post mortem but there certainly needs to be an inquest of sorts in to what the future holds for the national team.

We have been here before. Alfred Riedl's side in 2010 thrilled many in their opening games against Laos and Malaysia before going on to reach the final against Malaysia, ultimately being undone in the 1st leg in Kuala Lumpur. But the arrival of players like Cristian Gonzales, Irfan Bachdim and yes even Okta Maniani, had fans buzzing and rushing to snap up replica shirts. Indonesian football was cool, what could go wrong?

Plenty of course. Within months there were two leagues and a new PSSI claimed they couldn't find Riedl's contract. The years of plenty saw the Garuda slide down the rankings with the ultimate farce coming in 2012 with two national teams preparing for the AFF Suzuki Cup!

Are we likely to see a repetition of t hose years? Who knows. The future is unwritten! However that there will be no Indonesian sides competing in the AFC Cup next year suggests not a whole lot will change when it comes to forward planning.

But it is forward planning that is needed to build on the momentum brought about by those stirring performances against the Thais and Vietnamese especially. Some leadership is needed to work with the Indonesia Super League to make sure FIFA dates are kept free and some quality opponents can be lined up to test this thrilling young squad. And I don't mean games against Malaysia ad infinutum. A decision will also need to be made over the future of Alfred Riedl, either by the man himself or the PSSI. 

Stopping the ISL so the country's young players can take part in the SEA Games is not a good idea. The SEA Games is an age group competition. Fine, stop the Under 21 competition buut there is no reason why the national league should grind to a lengthy halt.

Next year the Thais are playing Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Australia in Asian Qualifiers with a view to get to the AFC Asian Cup and or the World Cup. That is where their lofty ambitions lie. Indonesia, without any such dreams, need to look around for quality opposition among the nations who do think big. They could also do with appointing a coach and letting him get on with his job.

One untold story of Indonesia's success at the AFF Suzuki Cup lies in the young players who spent time playing in Uruguay as part of the SAD project initiated by a previous PSSI head Nurdin Halid. The likes of Abduh Lestaluhu (red carded towards the end of the final in Bangkok), Hansamu Yama, Rudolf Basna, third choice keeper Teja Paku Alam and Manahati Lestusen all had stints in the side that competed in the Uruguayan pyramid and interestingly enough they are all, apart from Teja, defenders!

With the players from SAD and the youngsters who did so well at Under 19 level in recent years there does for once seem to be a nucleus of talent coming through. Of course the PSSI needs to make sure this generation doesn't go the same way as the 1994 lot (including Bima Sakti) who went to Sampdoria. Steps need to be put in place to ensure similar projects are planned and funded. Many may have mocked the Uruguay project but surely the biggest compliment came from Thai coach Zico when he had his players get at the experienced Beny Wahyudi at right back rather than exploit the relative youth and inexperience of Lestalahu on the left.

The future may be bright but the hard work begins now to ensure losing to Thailand isn't the pinnacle of the players' journey but just the first step.

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Security Or Spectacle - Indonesia's Dilemma

The Indonesia Soccer Championship B Final between PSS Sleman and PSCS Cilacap has been put back a few days. It was due to be played today at Manahan Stadium in Solo as part of a double header but while the 3rd/4th place game between Perssu and Martapura goes ahead some confusion surrounds the title decider.

Earlier in the week some Persis fans, supporters of the host city's team, expressed misgiving about the presence of one group of PSS fans. There is some bad blood between fans of PSS and Persis and their proximity, about an hour or so by train, only intensifies that rivalry.

Throw into the mix a bit of history between PSS and PSCS fans and you have all the ingredients for an incendiary atmosphere at the Manahan Stadium.

Thursday there was a meeting between rival fan groups, security officials and organisers and it was decided the game would be put back from 17 December to 22 December to allow more time for a security plan to be put in place while at the same time conceding fans would also want to see Indonesia play Thailand in the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup in Bangkok.

Some Persis fans have called for the game to be played at an alternate venue or without fans from either side present. They are right to be concerned given the number of incidences of violence at football matches this year in which supporters have lost their lives.

Here in lies one of the dilemmas of Indonesian football. The terrace culture is what makes the game here so special. But for all the beauty of the spectacle on the terraces there lies in the underbelly a threat of violence that can kick off at any moment.

PSS v PSCS should be a thrilling day out. A showcase of the best of Indonesian football from its second tier...a spectacle no other nation in South East Asia can reproduce. It deserves a fitting arena and a full house. But what if elements of that full house can be prone to getting involved in largescale disorder? Nobody wants to see that.

Manahan Stadium is the favoured venue for many events. The national team have played there, it has become second home to Persija and in recent days the Liga Nusantara, ISC Under 21 and Piala Soeratin finals have gone off without a hitch. 

But this game is different. PSS fans will travel in large numbers for sure. So will fans from Cilacap. There is potential for disorder on the roads and rails to Solo as well as within the city itself. 

To move the game to Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang for example would be to almost guarantee security because the game would be played out on front of a small crowd as few fans of either team would be expected to travel so far. Is that the price we must pay and keep paying to ensure events pass off without incident?

UPDATE - the game will go ahead but the venue has been switched. Now the ISC B final will be played at Bumi Kartini Stadium in Jepara.

Friday, December 16, 2016


Against The Odds - Indonesian Football 2016

As 2016 draws to a close it has clearly been an interesting year for followers of Indonesian football. A year that began with a campur of ad hoc competitions and a FIFA ban ends on time with the national team surprising everyone by reaching the Final of the AFF Suzuki Cup.

We do like a moan once in a while but for once this is going to be an unashamed look back at just what has been achieved this year. This is not to belittle the ongoing problems that surround the game, one of which will be highlighted in this post, but I have touched often enough on them including this post. With the national team 90 minutes away from lifting their first ever international trophy let us for a few paragraphs at least, look back on a year that has exceeded everyone's expectations.

Following FIFA's suspension of Indonesian football early 2015 the game was put on hold as people figured what to do next. Persib and Persipura were told they had to withdraw from the AFC Cup and the national team's ambitions in the joint Asian Cup/World Cup were squashed when they were kicked out.

Eventually football got its act together and a bunch of competitions were organised towards the end of 2015 which, somewhat surprisingly when you consider the circumstances, were not just well attended but well promoted and well advertised as well as receiving good TV coverage.

The year began with the General Sudirman Cup 2015 reaching its final stages. Mitra Kukar defeated Semen Padang in the final at Bung Karno Stadium 2-1 thanks to Yogi Rahadian's late winner. The crowd for two non Java sides was an impressive 55,000!

After the military backed competition it was the turn of the police to get involved when the Bhayangkara Cup kicked off in March centred on Bali and Soreang. The final was played in April at Bung Karno in front of 60,000 with Arema defeating Persib 2-0. 

There were a number of lessons we could take from these competitions, including the President's Cup 2015. First, Indonesian football was capable of organising a competition, building a timetable and sticking to the timetable. Second, Persib could play in Jakarta with their fans in attendance. And the increasing role of uniforms saw the police take over Surabaya United to become Bhayangkara and the military take over Persiram to become PS TNI. Both teams played in the next competition though not without some controversy.

Another feature of these competitions was how players would club hop. It was not unusual to see players line up for different clubs for each competition as they were in effect free agents. It is also interesting that despite the lack of an official league there was no real clamour among players, both local and foreign, to head overseas.

Buoyed by  the success of the competition authorities came up with the idea of a national competition featuring 18 teams. Called the Indonesia Soccer Championship they came up with a fixture list, a website and even an app as well as a number of sponsors. Big deal you may cry but if you had spent the last 10 years trying to cover local football you too would be turning imaginary cartwheels at this sudden embrace of the internet.

I guess in a bid to avoid upsetting FIFA/AFC sensitivities the organisers went to great lengths to explain the ISC would not be a league. There was to be no relegation and should FIFA decide to lift their ban on the PSSI the winners would not be eligible for the AFC Champions League or AFC Cup. Interesting when Kuwait were suspended they just carried on regarless with their Kuwait Premier League. As an aside, hands if you left Indonesia when the FIFA suspension was imposed to move to Kuwait in the hope of regular football only to see them follow suit!

The ISC kicked off at the end of April. With the FIFA ban still in place there was little room for manoever in the schedule and very little was done to accommodate the national team; there wasn't one! This decision is one of the reasons why Alfred Riedl was limited to a maximum of two players from each team when it came to call ups for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

With nearly every game shown live on TV and many available by streaming this unofficial competition was receiving unrivalled coverage. On the pitch it may have been business as usual as coaches and managers queued up to berate match officials but off it the season had a schedule and stuck to it in the most part.

While the ISC was going on people were busy sorting out the other leagues that make up the football pyramid. The Indonesia Soccer Championship B, the second division if you like, kicked off with more than 50 teams split into eight regionally based groups. Yes, there were teething problems and perhaps communications between some clubs were not as smooth as they could have been, think about the Laga v Persik game, but again a schedule was devised and in the main stuck to. Again a pretty remarkable achievement when you consider the scope of the league, the different time zones, the travel time some clubs endured and so on.

The final between PSS and PSCS has been put back a few days as organisers have to put in extra security for the game as the rival sets of supporters don't have the best of relationships.

If you think the ISC B was a nightmare to organise spare a thought for the desk jockeys who had to keep an eye on Liga Nusantara, the third tier of the pyramid. Honestly, I don't think there is a central resource for this, so mammoth an undertaking it is. Essentially this competition is even more regional than the ISC B and features towns and villages many would struggle to place on a map. Outside of local papers information was hard to find and it was a great relief when we reached the final eight. The final was played at Manahan Stadium in Solo and saw Perseden from Bali defeat PSN Ngada who come from somewhere out east.

Then there is the Soeratin Cup. This is for Under 17s and with the final held in Solo Persab Brebes defeated Askot Balikpapan in the final. The quivilent of the FA Youth Cup in England this competition receives a similar level of coverage as the Liga Nusantara.

There was also the ISC Under 21 league! PS TNI won this defeating Bali United 6-1 in the final.

This weekend sees the ISC itself come to an end with Persipura and Arema going toe to toe for the title. The Black Pearls host PSM at Mandala Stadium on Sunday and they know a victory will secure the title for them to cap off a remarkable final run in which has seen them win eight out of their last 10 games. Arema are two points behind in second place and have been less consistent in recent weeks, winning just five of their last 10 games. While Persipura have had to do without Boas Solossa who has been on international duty Arema will be missing defender Beny Wahyudi and keeper Meiga Kurnia as they host Persib. 

FIFA suspension, No naturalised players. Two players maximum from each team. Irfan Bachdim injured before the event begins. Persipura's Pahabol refused permission to join the squad. Young defenders from PS TNI and Barito Putera. I still can't get my nut around the fact Indonesia even got out of their group in the AFF Suzuki Cup let alone reach the semi finals, defeat second favourites Vietnam and go to Bangkok with a 2-1 lead after coming from behind against Thailand at Pakansari. Set against the backdrop of Indonesian football, consider where we stood at the start of the year it has been a fairy tale and Alfred Riedl deserves the freedom of the nation after what he has helped these players achieve no matter the result on Saturday at Rajamangala Stadium.

All this and a PSSI election that sees a new head!

There is no one out there who will say Indonesian football is perfect. There are too many deaths, too many controversies and too much violence be it supporters or players. The long drawn out saga of Persebaya needs to be resolved. But after 2016 perhaps there are the shoots of a recovery. After defeating the Thais Riedl said Indonesia were two years from catching up with the best team in South East Asia. A tad optimistic perhaps but I think from what we have seen this year everyone has the right, for the first time in a long time, to feel optimistic about the local game.

See also - The Road To The Raj. Get up close and personal to the colour and the passion of Indonesian fans at the AFF Suzuki Cup.


The Road To The Raj

Check out my latest vlog where I join the Indonesian fans for their AFF Suzuki Cup 2016 for ties in Manila and Cibinong. Capture the passion and colour as Indonesia surprise everyone by not just qualifying from their group but defeating Vietnam in the semi final and travelling to Bangkok for the second leg with a narrow 2-1 margin.

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