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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

 

Indonesia's Marquee Players

I must admit to being slightly confused by who qualifies as a marquee player. There I was thinking Michael Essien was one, setting the bar pretty high. You know, Champions League winner, won titles in England and France. But, and no disrespect, some of those who have followed in his footsteps have hardly been cut from the same mould. 

According to PSSI regulations a marquee player is one who has played in a World Cup or has played in one of the top eight leagues in Europe. At a guess I would suggest they are France, Germany, Spain, Italy, England, Netherlands, Portugal and ?

The transfer window is yet to close but as things stand these are the players who qualify under the marquee player programme.

Persib - Michael Essien (34) - Bastia, Lyon, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter, Panathinaikos. Ghana

Borneo - Shane Smeltz (35) - Mansfield Town, AFC Wimbledon, Halifax Town, Genclerbirligi. New Zealand

Persija - Bruno Lopes (30) - Estoril. Brazil*

Madura United - Peter Odemwingie (35) - RAA Louvieroise, Lille, Lokomotiv Moscow, West Bromwich Albion, Cardiff City, Stoke City, Rotherham United. Nigeria

PS TNI - Elio Martins (32) - Machio, Chaves, Beira Mar, Doxa, Beroe Stara Zagora, Uniao Maderia. Portugal*

Semen Padang - Didier Zokora (36) - Racing Genk, St Etienne, Spurs, Sevilla, Trabzonspor, Akhisar Belediyespor. Ivory Coast

Mitra Kukar - Mohamed Sissoko (32) - Auxerre, Valencia, Liverpool, Juventus, PSG, Fiorentina, Levante, Ternane. Mali

Arema - Juan Pablo Pino (30) - Monaco, Charleroi, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Bastia. Colombia

PSM - Wiljan Pluim (28) - Vitesse Arnhem, Roda JC, PEC Zwolle, Willem II. Netherlands*

Bali United - Nick van der Velden (35) - RKC Waalwijk, Dordrecht, AZ Alkmaar, NEC Nijmegan, FC Gronigen, Willem II, Dundee United. Netherlands*

Persela - Jose Coelho (27) - Benfica, Sheriff, Olhanense +++. Portugal*

Persiba - Anmar Almubaraki (25) - Heracles, Emmen, Telstar, Denizlispor, Syrianska. Netherlands/Iraq*

* denotes yet to appear in full national side.

It does seem the word marquee is being used a bit too glibly, in much the same way newbie Arsenal fans call players like Giroud and Koscielny legends. Certainly three players among that list do deserve the moniker if we need to use it. Essien, Zokora and Sissoko do boast more than decent playing resumes. Others, though not all, though are journeymen pros who haven't made an impact at home yet by having played for teams in certain countries are elevated to a pedestal they have never previously enjoyed.

Towards the end of their careers many players pack their suitcases and travel the globe in search of some final pay days. USA, China, India, the Middle East for example spring to mind. There is nothing wrong with this of course. As long as they have something to offer then why not. David Beckham didn't do a bad job in the US for his team when he was there. 

Dangle a wad of cash in front of someone and rare is the person who will say nay, my body is not what it was. And agents of course will not be warning prospective employers of dodgy knees, not when the magic word marquee has dollar signs flashing in front of their eyes.

It is down to clubs to be careful with what they are offered and take their time before joining any bandwagon that may be passing through town. There may be more sponsors involved in Indonesian football than a few years back and some clubs may be getting wiser when it comes to commercializing their 'brand' but the game isn't awash with cash. What money there is needs to be invested wisely on infrastructure, youth development and so on, not frittered away on final bumper paydays for average players with average careers and agents who would sell their grandmother's cat if it was retweeted enough.

 

Bali United Sack Schaller After Two Losses

Coaches are hired to be fired. They know that and understand that whenever they sign a contract with a new team. All the training they go through, all the studying, all the preparation they put in for their job though counts for nothing if they commit that most unforgivable of sins...lose a game.

All coaches ask for is a fair crack of the whip. Given time they can often change things around on the training ground and help their players produce better performances on the pitch that lead to an improvement in results. It's not easy and it takes time and effort but it worked for Robert Alberts (PSM) and Dragan Dukanovic (Borneo FC) last season. They didn't  get off to the best of starts at their respective clubs but management gave them the time and space to turn things around which they did.

Before the 2017 Liga 1 season even began though some clubs were getting itchy fingers. Out went Angel Alfredo Vera at Persipura, he only led them to the Indonesia Soccer Championship title last season, and Widodo Cahyo Putro at Sriwijaya. Now we have the first victim as the season begins with Bali United reacting to the sight of seeing their team bottom of the table. Coach Hans Peter Schaller has paid the ultimate price.

Two games played. Bali United lost their first game 2-0 away to Madura United. Only two sides have taken three points from their visit to the island in the last 21 home games so no real upset there. Bali United lost their second game 2-1 at home to Persipura with an own goal giving the visitors three points.

Madura United and Persipura. In the trade they would call that a tough start to the season. From the outside it would appear Bali United have reacted with haste to the sight of their club bottom of the table and with no replacement lined up they could yet have plenty of time to rue their decision.

In their official statement, Bali United say they didn't share the same vision with the coach they only appointed a few months ago. Eko Purjianto takes over as caretaker while the club look for a replacement.

Their is an irony in the timing of the decision to sack Schaller. New signing Nick Van Der Velden, who for some reason not particularly clear counts as a marquee player, was interviewed by the media yesterday. 'I have heard a lot of information about Bali United. I know they are a club with a professional management and I am ready to adapt with the other players and give my best.'



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

 

Pro Duta v PSBL 2-2

I must admit I had never even heard of Cendrawasih Stadium let alone know where it is so I was a tad surprised to find out I drove past it on my frequent trips to the airport. That I hadn't seen the slender floodlights on all those journeys I put down to my own s
tupidity and lack of interest on the roads around me. That and social media.

Imagine then the surprise when I heard Pro Duta were not only going to relocate to Jakarta but they were going to utilise this hitherto unknown stadium. I will leave for a later the date the adventures of Pro Duta in recent years and their various home bases. Suffice to say the last few seasons have seen them based in North Sumatra where they have struggled to attract any kind of fan base.

They missed out on the Indonesia Soccer Championship B, I guess you could say they took a gap year, but with the official leagues back in place they have taken their place in Liga 2 Group 1 along with Persiraja, PSPS, PSMS, PSBL, Persih, PS Timah Babel (formerly known as PS Bangka) and 757 Kepri Jaya (formerly known as Bintang Jaya).

Those who are not geographically challenged will have soon realised all those teams play in the top half of the island of Sumatra with the exception of PS Timah Babel and 757 Kepri Jaya whose home towns are on islands close to Sumatra. In the case of 757 Kepri Jaya the nearest thing they have to a local derby would be Young Lions in Singapore. The point being of course teams in Group 1 will have to have factored in some flights for the season when preparing their budgets (assuming they do budgets of course) so a trip to Jakarta would not be that onerous in the scheme of things.

Anyway living in a football daft yet football starved city as I do I at least was chuffed to hear Pro Duta at least were looking to play home games in the city and after spending a couple of days inhaling social media for news of a possible venue switch, as if, come match day I headed off to their wonderous new stadium.

Pro Duta have, as I intimated, not got the largest following in the country. The last time I saw them was back in December 2009 when they defeated Persikota 2-0 at Benteng Stadium and the only fans I can recall were the club officials. Despite the paucity of their support it was a nice, if somewhat overly optimistic, touch to see the ground was signposted on lamp posts once you came off the toll road. 

I guess 200 or 300 spectators turned out for the game including one or two who had bought my book and recognised me but there was nothing in the way of an atmosphere. The game kicked off in glorious sunshine and it was the visitors who struck first, Sandi Wijaya scoring after six minutes. Pro Duta levelled through Zulkhairi (pictured) on the half hour mark. M Renngur made it 2-1 to the away side on 54 minutes but despite dominatiing and having the best of the chances they were unable to add a third goal. Somehow an injury time free kick wasn't cleared and there was Syamir to turn the ball home and earn a point for the home side.

After the game the Pro Duta was quoted as saying he wasn't sure where they would play their next home game. The pitch wasn't the best to be fair. For me at least it was good to see some football in Jakarta at last and if they have another home game in town I will be checking it out subject to schedule.

Monday, April 24, 2017

 

22/23 April Weekend Results

Liga 1

Persija v Barito Putera 1-1 (Luis Carlos Junior; Thiago dos Santos Cunha) 27,707
Sriwijaya v Borneo 1-0 (Hilton Moreira) 17,647
PS TNI v Persib 2-2 (Erwin Ramdani, Guster Cahyo Putro; Michael Essien, Atep) 6,100
Bali United v Persipura 1-2 (Sylvano Comvalius; Marinus Mariyanto, OG)
Arema v Bhayangkara 2-0 (Dedik Setiawan, Esteban Vizcarra)

Liga 2

Persiraja v PS Timah Babel 2-0
Persih v PSPS 1-3
PSMS v Kepri Jaya 2-0

Perserang v Cilegon United 1-0
Persikad v Persita 2-0
Lampung Sakti v Persika 1-1
Persikabo v PS Bengkulu 1-4

Persijap v PSGC 4-1
Persip v Persibas 1-4
PSS v PSCS 0-1
Persibat v Persibangga 2-0

Persiba v PSIR 0-1
Persipur v PSIS 1-2
Persis v PPSM

Persepam MU v Persatu 2-1
PSBI v Persinga 1-0
Persebaya v Madiun Putra 1-1
PSIM v Martapura 3-2

Persewangi v Persida 3-0
Perssu Real v PSMP 1-2
Kalteng Putra v PSBK 6-1

PS Sumbawa Barat v PS Badung 2-0
Celebest v Persigo 2-0


 

Bobotoh Don't Do Honeymoons

Michael Essien and Carlton Cole may have pretty impressive playing careers between them but nothing, nothing will have prepared them for life at Persib Bandung. Essien won the Premier League twice at Chelsea, also won the title with Lyon, played for Real Madrid and Milan in his glittering career. Been there, done that. Now he is in Indonesia and to be fair on a personal level his career has started well enough, netting his first goal against PS TNI at the weekend.

Carlton Cole may not have reached the same heights but he hasn't done too badly for himself during his career picking up seven England caps along the way as well as playing for Chelsea and West Ham United. Both maybe north of 30 now and in the twilight of their careers but football never ceases to amaze and for both these players Indonesia will be offering new unlikely new experiences.

Persib haven't started the season badly. Two draws from their opening games isn't necessarily the start of a relegation candidate. But the fans, the Bobotoh, aren't happy and following the 2-2 draw away to PS TNI at the weekend social media went into meltdown. Persib were leading 2-0 thanks to goals from Essien and local hero Atep before the home side scored two late goals to earn the unlikely point.

Fans were quick to blame coach Djadjang Nurdjaman for the late capitulation and #DjanurOut was soon trending on Twitter where Persib have almost three million followers. The supporters blamed the coach, who in 2014 led the team to their first Indonesia Super League title, for his lack of coaching acumen and his decision to replace the exciting debutant Billy Keraf in the second half. Now Keraf himself had only come on in the 36th minute but the decision to replace him after a 38 minute cameo left fans fuming even though the 20 year old was replaced by one time England international Cole with sixteen minutes on the clock and Persib seemingly cruising.

Keraf had been a surprise late addition to the squad for the West Java derby as Djadjang sought to accommodate the absence of a number of players away with the national Under 22 squad but the impact the youngster made had the Bobotoh drooling for more. Seeing their new hero replaced upset them, conceding two late goals raised the hackles even further and it was Djadjang and perhaps unfairly the sub Cole who received much of the flack.

As a local lad who played for the club and later led them to the ISL Djadjang is looked at affectionately by the Persib support but there have long been questions about his coaching and tactics. He won the ISL without possessing an A license, supposedly a must for any coach in Indonesia, and spent the start of 2016 in Italy adding to his education with Inter. Going into the new season many fans were not convinced by the team in their pre season friendlies despite the hype surrounding Cole and Essien and the failure to hold onto a lead against a supposedly weaker PS TNI side has just added to the doubts surrounding the football club.

Persib fans don't do honeymoons. They expect results yesterday and if they aren't forthcoming they expect to read about the changes in the morning. The club itself are more patient. For example while Djadjang was in Italy they appointed the respected Dejan Antonic to guide the first team through the Indonesia Soccer Championship. 

The season didn't start well, drawing 1-1 at home to Sriwijaya and even then they needed an injury time equaliser to save their blushes, Fans were not happy and some even tried to place an advertisement in a local paper criticising the efforts of one particular player. It was an appointment that didn't work and the fans soon turned. The club stuck by their coach until it was clear things weren't going to improve and finally the inevitable happened with Djadjang returning. By the way the player who attracted the negative criticisim at the start of the campaign knuckled down and earned the respect of the fans.

The fixture list has been kind to Persib with two home games and the away trip to Cibinong in their opening three games. But this Saturday Persib come up against Sriwijaya and the Bobotoh will be demanding their first three points of the season. 

Persib have lost two of their last 20 games in all competitions so Cole and Essien may be wondering what all the fuss is about but that means little to the demanding faithful. The last result matters and in their eyes the draw away to PS TNI was as bad as a defeat. Failure to beat Sriwijaya would not be well received on the terraces and leave Djadjang in a perilous position. 

As for the expensive imports; welcome to Persib Bandung.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

 

Semen Padang Earn Useful Win In Gresik

Persegres v Semen Padang 1-3 (Patrick da Silva; Vendry Mofu 2, Irsyad Maulana) 7,712

Semen Padang went to the top of the Liga 1 after they picked up a handy win away to Persegres. Mofu gave the visitors the lead on 28 minutes but da Silva made it two in two games, levelling within 10 minutes. Second half goals from Mofu and Maulana made sure the points would be heading to West Sumatra. Bad news when the coach carrying the Semen Padang players was attacked by home fans with one player getting a rock to his head.

Persela v Madura United 2-0 (Fahmi Ayyubi, Ivan Coelho) 12,360

First win of the season for Persela against a highly fancied Madura United with Coelho scoring his second of the season. Last time out Odemwingie became the first marquee player to score in Liga 1. Last night he became the first to be booked but was just one of seven to receive yellow cards in a firey encounter.

 

Odemwingie Scores On Debut As Liga 1 Kicks Off

Barito Putera v Mitra Kukar 2-1 (Thiago dos Santos Cunha, Dedi Hartono; David Maulana) 4,360

First game of the season saw Jacksen F Tiago get off to a winning start against Mitra Kukar in Banjarmasin.

Persib v Arema 0-0 34,056

More than 34,000 saw these two heavyweights go toe to toe at Bandung Api Stadium though Cristian Gonzales had a goal disallowed for the visitors. Carlton Cole came on as a second half substitute for Persib, replacing Gian Zola while Michael Essien started the game but was subbed on 77 minutes.

Madura United v Bali United 2-0 (Bayu Gatra, Peter Odemwingie) 6,198

Good start to the season for Madura United as Peter Odemwingie became the first of the so called marquee players to score, netting a second half penalty

Persiba v Persija 0-2 (Luis Carlos Junior, Rudi Widodo) 1,306

Yep, you read that right. Persija won their opening game of the season, defeating Persiba 2-0 in Malang. Last season Persija only managed to socre more than one goal in a game on five occasions.

PSM v Persela 3-1 (Reinaldo, Willem Pluim, M Rahmat; Ivan Coelho) 9,357

Expectations high in South Sulawesi with coach Robert Alberts looking to build on the decent end to the season last time round. New signing Reinaldo scored on his debut as Persela were comfortably brushed aside with three goals in the opening 41 minutes. Both sides ended with 10 men after Ferdinand Sinaga and Aang Suparman were sent off in the second half.

PS TNI v Borneo 2-2 (Hong Soon Hak; Lerby Eliandry, Kunhiro Yamashita) 1,800

The military side fielded three foreign players after deciding pre season they would end their policy of using only local lads and one of them, Hong Soon Hak, scored on his debut. After the game the hiome side took some flack for their aggressive play which left a couple of the visiting players with some wounds of their own. A hard earned point for Borneo who dropped the Pusamania from their name pre season

Semen Padang v Sriwijaya 1-1 (Marcel Sacremento; Hilton Moreira) 7,420

Familiar faces on the score sheet as the Sumatran pair held on to a draw in Padang. After an eventful pre season when his future was so uncertain defender Yanto Basna made his debut for Sriwijaya as did Nur Iskander, playing against his former club.

Persipura v Persegres 1-1 (Boas Solossa; Patrick da Silva) 14,600

Those with long memories will recall Persipura were held at home in their first game of the ISC campaign last season but still went on to win the title. This time around the Black Pearls, a byword for consistency, went into the new campaign with a new coach, Liestadi replacing Angel Alfredo just hours ahead of the new season.

Bhayangkara v Perseru 2-1 (I Putu Gede, Wahyu Subo Seto; Ronaldo Meosido) 2,500

A new season, a new start for Bhayangkara. New coach Simon McMenemy would have been delighted to have picked up his first three points of the season as the club made their debut at their new stadium in Bekasi, West Java.



Tuesday, April 04, 2017

 

Madura United Confirm Odemwingie Signing

After what seemed an interminable process Peter Odemwingie has finally arrived in Indonesia to join his new team mates at Madura United. The 35 year old Nigerian international, born in Uzbekistan, was introduced to the local media in a bar in Jakarta the other day. 

The English media, in their usual sensitive manner, decided to lift a picture from the Madura United twitter feed to say how unhappy Odemwingie looks at the launch session. Not having anyone on the ground, not having any idea where Madura maybe they wrap themselves in Little England bullshit. I mean come on, how can someone leave the delights of Rotherham United, where he was on a short term deal, and move halfway round the world to a place no o
ne has heard of. Different reaction had he moved to China or Thailand of course.

Anyway, I digress. Why has Odemwingie decided to come to Indonesia? 'As a child I liked cartoons. In those films you could see Komodo dragons and they were interesting.' He said he would be bringing his family with him and added he had heard about Indonesia from a friend. 'A friend from my country invited me to come here. I like Indonesia including Bali.'

He will soon find out despite their proximity Madura is no Bali. Where the latter is the archtypal tropical island with them swaying palm trees and sun kissed beaches Madura is a dry island in more ways than one. The soil there is not given to producing the food products that proliferate across much of tropical Indonesia so much of the population either head to mainland Java or get by farming crops such as kretek for the local cigarette market.

Football in Madura has come a long way over the last few years. It wasn't that long ago when Perseba Super Bangkalan were about the only side in the top two divisions of the national league. However they were bought out and Persepam Madura Utama found themselves the islands top side. Based in Pamekasan their initial season in the top flight saw them play at Bangkalan Stadium, about an hour's drive from Surabaya on mainland Java and the nearest airport.

They got relegated from the top flight Indonesia Super League in 2014 but it seems the island had gotten the football bug and in 2016 the owners of Persepam MU bought the licence of Persipasi Bekasi Raya (formerly Pelita Jaya) and shifted the club to Madura, rebranding them Madura United and guaranteeing a seat at the top table. Serious investment has gone into the football club and they have a new stadium in Pamekasan, about a three hour drive from Surabaya.

2017 promises to be quite a year for Madura football. As well as Madura United in the top division, Liga 2 sees Persepam, Perssu and Madura FC bidding for top flight football. How aware Odemwingie will be of the other sides on the island remains to be seen.  

Sunday, April 02, 2017

 

Andri Slammed After Lining Up For Qatar

Andri Syahputra is 17 years old. A mere teenager. Born in Lhokseuwame, Aceh, Andri has spent several years in Qatar. He goes to school there and he is on the books of local side Al Ghafara though unfortunately when I saw them play last season he wasn't in the squad that day.

As part of the PSSI bid to attract young Indonesian talent from among the diaspora Andri was selected for the national team Under 19 squad recently. However the teenager rejected the call up saying his school wouldn't give him the time off to fly back to Indonesia for the training session.

It then appears Andri lined up for the Qatar Under 19 side when they played England Under 18 in a friendly in Doha. This hasn't gone down too well back in Indonesia.

PSSI head Edy Rahmayadi responded to this perceived slight by saying if someone doesn't want to play for the national side when they are called up it would be better if they left Indonesia.

'Representing Indonesia is a jihad,' said Rahmyadi. ' If you don't want to play for Indonesia it means you are not Indonesian. If he(Andri) doesn't want to represent Indonesia get out of Indonesia...if you don't want to represent Indonesia then don't be an Indonesian!'

Even though Andri lined up for Qatar it appears he still holds Indonesian citizenship and an Indonesian passport. Obtaining a Qatari passport would be very difficult, he needs to have lived there for 25 years for a start, Like Indonesia, Qatar does not recognise dual nationality (Indonesia does for children but they must make a decision when they reach a certain age).

In a bid to raise its profile in the sporting world Qatar has been offering a form of citizenship to athletes including footballers over the last few years. A look at the recent Qatar squad that was called up for a World Cup qualifier with Iran shows the presence of a number of non Arab sounding names like Oumar Bari (Guinea), Khalifa Ababacar (Senegal), Pedro Miguel (Portugal) and Luiz Junior (Brazil) among others.

Because Andri only played in a friendly for the Qatar national side chances are he could still be called up by Indonesia in the future. However only time will tell whether he will accept a second call up. Meanwhile we are left to ponder the irony of a football body actively scouting for naturalised players getting upset when one of their own considers a similar path.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

 

Liga 2 Takes Shape

I am really looking forward to Liga 2 this season. With 61 teams spread around eight and the likelihood three dozen teams could face relegation it promises to be a nail biting campaign. And with the likes of Persebaya, PSS, PSIM, PSIS, PSMS and Persik taking part the league promises more fans and more history than any other second tier division in South East Asia.

Group 1 - Persiraja, PSMS, PSBL, PSPS, Persih, 757 Kepri Jaya, Pro Duta, PS Bangka
Group 2 - Lampung Sakti, PS Bengkulu, Persita, Perseang, Cilegon United, Persikad, Persika, Persikabo
Group 3 - PSGC, PSCS, Persibas, Persibangga, Persip, PSS, Persijap, Persibat
Group 4 - Persipon, PSIS, PSIR, PPSM, Persis, Persiba Bantul, Persipur, Sragen United
Group 5 - PSIM, Persinga, Persatu, Persebaya, Madiun Putra, PSBI, Persepam, Martapura
Group 6 - Persewangi, Persik, Sidoarjo United, PSBK, PSMP, Perssu, Kalteng Putra
Group 7 - Madura FC, Persekabpas, Persekam, Persigo Semuru, PS Badung, PS Sumbawa Barat, Celebest
Group 8 - Persebul, Persigubin, Yahukimo, Persifa, PSBS, Persika Kaimana

I'm not sure how many teams will be promoted to Liga 1. Certainly Liga 2 will have 24 teams in 2018 so the top three can expect to at least play there. For the rest Liga 3 beckons!

 

Persib Bandung - What Can Carlton Cole And Michael Essien Expect?

Sunday sees Persib hold their official launching ahead of the new season which kicks off 15 April when they host Arema at the Gelora Bandung Api Stadium. For high profile new recruits Carlton Cole and Michael Essien this launching may come as a bit of a culture shock. Launches are common place in Indonesia, allowing the club to introduce their squad and kit to the fans, allowing supporters to meet and greet the players who will represent them on the football pitch. In other words the launch strengthens the bond that exists between club and spectator, something that no longer really exists in English football.

Cole and Essien of course have a shared heritage, having both played for Chelsea when they were somewhat younger. In Bandung they will be joined by another familiar name...Gian Zola is a promising young player who has recently been called up by Indonesia. No relation of course the the guy currently running Birmingham City (into the ground some may say) young Zola may be excited about playing alongside two former internationals with such glittering pedigree but he should never forget one thing. He knows Indonesian football. Cole and Essien don't.

So what can the big moneyed recruits expect from their time in Bandung with Persib? Unlike Chelsea, Persib are a club with a long, proud history and identity. Most Chelsea fans will be in blissfull ignorance about the era before a Russian guy with billions to spend came along and changed English football. Osgood, Hudson, Cooke, Bonetti, Droy. These names will be meaningless to a generation of hard core Blues fans. 

Persib fans on the other hand do know their history. Hariono and Atep may be considered legends of the team 2017 but most Bobotoh if not all know exactly who Adjat Sudrajat is. They will also have a story to tell of the Final between Persib and PSMS at Bung Karno Stadium in 1985 when an estimated 150,000 fans saw the game. In my book Sepakbola The Indonesian Way Of Life one Persib fan recalls a the Puncak (the road linking Bandung with Jakarta at the same) being a a sea of blue. Current coach Djadjang Nurdjaman may be no Jose Mourinho but he understands just what Persib means to the local people. Born in West Java, played for Persib, coached Persib, he has been there,done that for the Maung Bandung. 

Bandung may boast a population of more than 2 million but it remains very much a one football club city. The nomadic Pelita Jaya have tried in the past to lay down roots in the area as have Pro Duta but neither could make any inroads in to the local population. Lee Hendrie, like Cole a former Aston Villa and England international, played for the short lived Bandung FC...they relocated to Kuningan in a futile bid to attract supporters. The city, along with the province of West Java, is blue through and through. Travel around the province and you will be the Persib crest painted on walls, the replica shirt hanging on clothes lines drying in the breeze, t shirts adorning kids hanging out with their mates. Across the length and breadth of West Java people bleed Persib blue. 

Cole and Essien may recall their training sessions with Chelsea. Closed sessions far from prying eyes, they were designed to focus players minds on the next game. Indonesian training sessions tend to be more open affairs. One reason for that is logistic. Most clubs don't own their own facilities so must hire a public space. Persib are the exception. They do have Stadion Persib and the club often train there but fans often attend anyway, taking photos and asking for autographs from their heroes.. Quiet how Cole and Essien will take to these public shows of affection remains to be seen though there has been rumours suggesting the club have been looking for a more enclosed facility to help the foreign players adapt quicker. In Indonesia open training sessions are just one example of how close the relationship is between fan and player.

One other venue for training could well be up in the hills at Lembang along narrow winding , busy lanes where Cole and Essien can marvel at the popularity of rabbits. Sate kelinci, rabbit on a stick, is a popular local delicacy!

Bandung may be a large city but in many respects it is just a large village, certainly when it comes to football. Everyone is a Persib fan. Everyone. I have been out for a pizza with one player and we soon attracted a crowd of interested onlookers staring in awe at one of their heroes. Another player, who has since moved on, told me of the time he had run out of water and had gone to a local minimart in the early hours to top up. Thanks to Chinese whispers by the time the news got back to the club he was no longer just looking for some water but a totally different kind of drink. 

As an Arsenal fan I grew up thinking nothing happened in cities like Leeds or Newcastle during the week. They were just places for football. The fact people lived and worked there and watched TV never really dawned on me. I thought they just lived for the weekend when they could see visiting supporters arrive in their city with a police escort and they could get up close and personal and call us cockney bastards. The converse used to be true of Bandung for me. Living in Jakarta I would go down to Bandung once in a while but it was with Indonesian friends who were attracted by factory outlets and where to buy the best brownies. Dull, mundane visits that never filled me with much enthusiasm.

Then I started going down for the football and a different Bandung opened up to me. A city filled with creative, passionate people who love their local football club and go to great lengths to follow that football club. For some supporting Persib has become more than a day out with their mates at the game. They have turned their passion into mini cottage industries that support families. Through t-shirts, scarves, websites, books Persib fans are high profile and there is money to be made in being a Persib fan. 

It's not always easy going to Bandung for Jakarta people. Cars registered in the capital city have been known to be attacked by Persib fans who feel a deep hatred towards fans of Jakarta side Persija. Once I went down to see a game at Siliwangi Stadium and we drove right outside the stadium in my wife's company car. To say we weren't welcome is an understatement. Fans banged on the car roof, called us Jakarta dogs etc. It was only when me and my mate opened the windows and showed the supporters we were just two dumb foreigners who had got lost the atmosphere changed!

That rivalry between Persib and Persija is deep and bitter. Recent years have seen fans die for not celebrating a goal with a lot of enthusiasm, the freeway connecting the two cities blocked as travelling fans fought with police and local supporters, a team bus attacked on the way to the stadium. The list is endless. When the teams meet no away fans travel and the players who are the away team usually go to the stadium in an armoured personnel carrier. Even when the game is played hundreds of miles away fans of both sides still manage to go toe to toe if there is enough desire.  

The supporters can be a hard bunch to please but once a player does he can expect a relationship with hundreds of thousands of fans that will transcend time and distance. Players like Ilija Spasojevic and Miljan Radovic may have moved on a few years back but they remain in the hearts of the Bobotoh and thanks to social media keep their ties with the club thanks to hashtags and retweets. Once a Bobotoh, always a Bobotoh.

It remains to be seen what kind of impact Cole and Essien will have on Persib's season. From a playing point of view Cole is similar to Sergio van Dijk while the team are well stacked in midfield with the likes of Hariono and Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan, And it's not as if the new imports are likely to add more fans at the gate. I once wrote were Persib to dress 11 mannequins in blue shirts fans would be queuing for hours. Both players though will be hoping to add their own little footnote to a proud football club's long and proud history.

Persib in Numbers

Twitter followers 2.86 million. Tottenham have 1.9 million
Instagram 869,000                   Tottenham have 1 million
Facebook 9,359,000                 Tottenham have 8,321 million

One English based website said Essien had signed for a team no one had heard of. Judging by the numbers on social media Persib must be one of the biggest clubs in the world...no one has ever heard of!




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