Friday, December 12, 2014


Persib's ACL Adventure

Before Persib can even contemplate taking on the best in Asia in the AFC Champions League they must overcome an obstacle that afflicts just about every player, coach and official in Indonesia. They face an away game against Hanoi T & T in Vietnam in February and that means dusting off the passports and packing the winter woolies.

I don't mean to generalise but Indonesian football doesn't travel well. If they could host the World Cup and provide their own referees, arrange the catering and lay out pot holed roads, Indonesia would be world champions. Unfortunately international sport doesn't work that way and that handicaps this country.

Getting out of tanah air means moving away from the creature comforts of bakso, kretek, teh botol and chili sauce. I have friends who have been on tour groups to places like Europe and their idea of a good time is to stand in front of a famous building, everyone take group pictures, get back on the bus, look at the pictures, update their social media before heading for the nearest Chinese restaurant.

Footballers find it harder. Getting beyond Sabang is a journey into the unknown; a land where match officials can't always be convinced to change a decision or are not easily seduced by a spectacular fall and roll like they are back home. They aren't used it it and their clubs aren't set up for it.

Arthur Irawan plays in Europe but remains ignored by national selectors while Irfan Bachdim moved to Japan as part of a tourist promotion but very few players try their hand overseas; Patrich Wanggai left T Team after a season as did Hamkah Hamza (PKNS). Fair play to Andik Vermansyah for staying another season but he is overlooked by the national team for his ambition and efforts.

What will the Persib fans and players make of Hanoi? I know plenty of Indonesians who have been there and they all complain about the traffic! Oh irony, how sweet thou sounds.

You can be sure ahead of the one off tie there will be plenty of stories about the weather there but need that be an issue, especially for Persib? They have Lembang just up a hill or two. Most of their players will have experienced the delights of a chilly dusk in Wamena.

If they do manage to overcome Hanoi T & T, their reward is another one off away Seoul in South Korea. They are sure getting no favouurs in the draw, are they?

There has been some progress in recent seasons with Persipura, Semen Padang and Arema performing with credibility in the AFC Cup. But that is by far a weaker competition and the best of Myanmar, Maldives is no match for teams from South Korea, Japan or Australia.

The odds are heavily stacked against Persib making progress and much of that is mental. Indonesian football somehow needs to overcome its fear of playing overseas and stop acting the big fish in a small pond. On the world stage the country ranks pretty lowly and while the fans make the games a pretty awe inspiring experience on the pitch, as we have witnessed in the recent ASEAN Football Federation Championships, they are way behind the rest of the region.

Persib players may have nice new boots for the season ahead bought from their bonuses for winning the Indonesia Super League but it is the other baggage they, and the rest of football, carry that will prevent them making any headway in the Asian Champions League.

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