Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The Indonesia Honey Pot

For many years no football club would go near Indonesia. Scared off by terrorism and a perceived political instability overplayed by foreign embassies instead they concentrated their South East Asian efforts on the more visitor friendly countries of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Now, however, it appears Indonesia is once again open for business and everyone wants a slice of the pizza. Hot on the heels of Barcelona announcing they would be opening up academies here comes new that Inter Milan, due to visit the country later in May, would also be opening academies to tap into the expanding middle class.

With the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool already in the market it appears Europe’s elite clubs have found a new promised land and are falling over themselves to get established ahead of their rivals.

These academies are the language schools of football. Kids go in young, go through a number of levels and age groups and come out as, umm, footballers? Well, no, not quite. No amount of running round a football field in the newest boots wearing the latest replica shirt is going to turn a sparrow into a bird of paradise and parents throwing money at it won’t change that.

Of course no one is promising that little Johnny is going to come out of an academy playing like Lionel Messi. But parents, parting with hard earned cash, will be entitled to ask what they will be getting for their money. And the truth is not much really.

Every club that has dipped their toe in the Indonesian pool has talked about potential just as every multi-national looking to invest here. The potential of a burgeoning middle class with higher disposable incomes. They coo about Indonesia’s potential in football and point to a vibrant domestic league and sell out crowds at the Bung Karno as their proof.

Too often though they overlook the adjective that usually precedes the noun. Unfulfilled.

But what role do they envisage their academy playing in turning that around? It is very unlikely Indonesian football will find a Messi or a Ronaldo going through the ranks of a branded football academy. Instead they’re more likely to find kids with well off parents and a few bob to spend having their offspring live out their footballing fantasies. These kids from the top schools will in most cases have had their futures marked out for them by protective parents. Let the kids play football now because in the future they will be working in an air conditioned office, not getting drenched playing on cattle grazing surfaces with fans pelting rocks at them.

The European clubs of course care not one jot about that. Yes, it would be a marketing boon if a player does go through the academy and goes on to make a career professionally but the odds are sky high. Indonesia’s football future are playing barefoot in the kampongs far from the slick EPL or Serie A clubs’ watchful eyes. They are training with their local team, their local Persi- or learning the trade at one of many SSBs (Sekolah Sepak Bola or Soccer Schools) that are littered haphazardly around the country.

When the big clubs talk about developing the game that is where they should be focusing their efforts, not on ticking mummy and daddy’s list of must do’s for their kids.

Academies are cheap, low cost, low risk ways of getting the brand out there and that is their main purpose.

There are other ways clubs could give something back, to really help develop the game in their chosen backyard. They could, for example build a stadium or relay a turf. Even better. They could take some of the brightest young coaches in the league and place them alongside their own coaches working on youth development or with the reserves. Give the coaches a chance to earn new ideas and see how other countries go about improving the talent pool.

Won’t happen of course. Improving coaches’ ability is nowhere near as sexy as having a soccer school with your name getting regular mentions in the media. And even if one club did actually break the mould and try something so revolutionary it could have a detrimental effect on the coaches themselves.

Imagine spending 12 months with Ajax, Arsenal or Auxerre and returning to Indonesia brimming woth enthusiasm and ideas only to over ruled by a kretek smoking buffoon in batik telling you who which player to sign, who to substitute or a 14 kilometre run everyday does improve a player’s stamina.

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