Thursday, May 24, 2007


Sorry night for Indonesian football

The final round of fixtures in the group stage of the Asian Champions League illustrated the potential of Indonesia as well as just how far it has to go before it can become a serious player on a wider stage. 12 years ago the Thai Farmer’s Bank won the trophy in consecutive years but the game has changed heaps since then and it is unlikely any club will challenge the might of Arab and North East Asian countries without a severe influx of cold, hard cash.

Arema Malang played well enough at times at home to Korean side Chunnam Dragons. They had the chances, especially first half, to give their visitors a game. They didn’t take them. They lost.

The stand out fixture was between two of Asia’s potential glamour clubs. Urawa Diamonds required just a point at home to Sydney to secure qualification to the final 8 while the Australian debutants needed all three points to go through. The 0-0 draw wasn’t a classic. Far from it. But watching the game as a neutral, something I rarely do with English football these days a number of things struck me. Things that Indonesian football would do well to note.

First was the stadium. It was an impressive looking arena, expensive too! Fully covered. I contrasted that with Arema Malang’s place with 3 open terraces and a covered stand. Then there were the fans. Now obviously I can only go so far in comparing Japan and Indonesia. Both are archipelagos, both have large populations. And both have a fanatical football base. The well heeled Japanese fan, like his less well heeled Indonesian counterpart, sported club colours with pride. I imagine though that while the Urawa fan purchased direct from the club, here fans buy from street vendors with the result the club is missing out on a potentially huge revenue stream.

Then there was the game itself. It was a tight, disciplined affair with especially Urawa determined and dogged at the back. They had a game plan and they stuck to it. The result was king, nothing else mattered. Washington put in a lot of hard work, tracking back to help when needed, often ploughing a lone furrow up top. It was a performance that should be made essential viewing for any Indonesian coach.

We already know Indonesia has a long way to go. Next season sees local government money dry up. The Liga and Copa are both kept afloat with bucket loads of tobacco cash and that will one day dry up. Next weekend we have friendlies in preparation for the Asian Cup yet I have seen and heard nothing about ticket sales locally.

The Indonesian government has enough distractions. It is time for them to step aside and let the private sector take over football. It is the commercially minded who have the wherewithal to build successful brands. The atmosphere at the Urawa was no less impressive than a similarly sized Indonesian crowd and if only teams like Persik and Arema can compete on an equal footing with the best in Asia then I’m sure interest in the game domestically would increase.

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