Tuesday, October 08, 2013


Managing Expectations

Today sees the AFC U19 Qualifying round kick off in Jakarta with Indonesia being joined by Laos, Philippines and South Korea and perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Indonesian team lies not on the field of play but in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps the worst thing the current squad could have done was to have won the AFF U19 in Sidoarjo. Yes, I accept the hoary old argument that the silverware ended a generation of drought.

But if it means they go into the AFC competition expecting to just turn up to win then the whole experience was wasted.

Back in 2010 a couple of big victories against Malaysia and Laos had the whole country expecting Indonesia would go on and win the AFF Cup. The media led the hype with channels not  normally known for their interest in the local game flooding their schedules with tidbits, accompanied by celebrities whose knowledge of the beautiful game extended as far as the Manchester United replica shirt their advisors told them to pick up from a local market.

Semi finals and the final against Malaysia attracted around 300,000 fans high on the expectancy of victory, low on the subtleties of the game; Malaysia were a better, more experienced team. Blind patriotism.

Indonesia lost and the hangers on drifted away. Football descended into its own civil war and the celebrity fan moved on to the latest coffee hangout in what ever became the latest hip hang out for them sort.

The danger now with the U19s is a repeat of that mania.

Apart from anything else, and whisper this quietly if you are around the Bung Karno Stadium later today, but at this age group it ain't about winning. It's about developing players for the future in the knowledge that perhaps only two or three of the squad will go on to make a name for themselves in the game in the  future.

Back in 2008, Indonesia hosted an AFF U16 competition. Five years on, we can't expect too many of those players to be household names. Not in a country where the big clubs tend not to trust youth.

But Singapore's Shafiq Ghani recently played a major role in LionsXII winning the Malaysia Super League while Malaysians like Gary Steven Robbat and Devandran have gone on to become first team regulars. From the Indonesian team? You know, lah.

Tell that to the thousands who will confirm on Bung Karno over the next few days or, even, the players pulling on the merah putih.

Football can still be a long career at their age; winning an U19 will mean jack shit when they finally hang up their boots and look back on their trophy free time in the game. Perhaps the likes of Bambang Pamungkas, Friman Utina and Ponaryo Astaman might have welcomed an U19 as they look back on their careers but the stuff of dreams it ain't.

How the coaching staff managed the successful team in Sidoarjo will be of the utmost importance. If they pandered to the players, allowed them their ego trips and extra training sessions to practise goal celebrations then they have done a great disservice.

Sidoarjo is over, the AFC U19 is a tougher nut to crack. Already, the Indonesian coach has said the draw benefits Indonesia because they have two easier games before meeting South Korea. A quote he may rue because the South Koreans have a similar draw!

And people have been underestimating the work Laos have been doing at youth level for several years now and underestimating a team is never a recipe for winning anything.

While Indonesia may still be dining out on the glory of that night in Sidoarjo, it is in the past. Today sees a new competition kicking off. And ultimately, success for Evan Dimas and his team mates comes not in East Java or the AFC U19s. It comes five or six years down the road when they have become established players in their own right and they are able to dine out on their performances of the last game as men, not a little known pot they won as teenagers.

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