Friday, March 24, 2017


Marquee Signings Raise Interest In Local Game

Persib Bandung’s announcement they had signed ex Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien didn’t just cause a stir domestically. The news made headlines around the world. It’s not often events in Indonesian football make headlines beyond tanah air so for once it is quite nice to read stories that don’t have a negative angle though the amount of ignorance regarding Persib, one website called them a team its readers had ‘probably never heard of’ says much about the quality of journalism in some countries.

Surely a quick search on the internet would have revealed not an unknown football club but one with more Twitter followers than say Tottenham Hotspur and almost 10 million Facbook fans. Essien is hardly joining a minnow.

While it may be good to bask in the glow of a few positive stories what does the signing of Essien say about the state of Indonesian football today? Coming off the back of a successful, if surprising run in the Suzuki Cup, a reasonably well run Indonesia Soccer Championship and the promise of a new PSSI leadership surely Essien’s arrival is one more, albeit cautious, reason to be moderately optimistic about where Indonesian football stands today?

Certainly the outlay by Persib is a huge vote of confidence in the game and its popularity. PSM coach Robert Alberts has been quoted as saying Essien’s annual salary is about the same as his club’s total budget for the year so despite a new PSSI regulation allowing the presence of a marquee player (above and beyond the two foreign players plus one Asian currently allowed) it remains to be seen how many other clubs follow Persib’s path.

There have been stories linking Persib with a number of strikers including Didier Drogba while Madura United have been linked with former West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie. If the money is on the table there will be no shortage of players and agents willing to get their hands on some of it. We saw that with the ill fated Liga Primer Indonesia when a large number of foreign players and coaches headed to our shores only to return home when the money dried up. What did Indonesia gain?

Will the arrival of high profile foreign players help or hinder local young talent? Much will depend on the attitude of the player. Start comparing the pitches and training facilities unfavourably with the likes of London or Madrid and the result would soon be an unhappy dressing room. On the other hand knuckle down in the dressing room, make an effort to learn the language and join the team mates at a local warung eating sate ayam would go a long way towards creating a favourable impression.

Since the days when Pelita Jaya signed Mario Kempes and Roger Milla Indonesia generally speaking has been reluctant to go down the path of high profile imports. Other nations in the region have been more keen. Sydney FC signed Juventus legend Allesandro del Piero for example while close to home Thailand’s Muang Thong United featured ex Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler while Argentine Pablo Aimar had a short spell with Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim. More recently Tampines Rovers in Singapore had ex Liverpool and Arsenal striker Jermaine Pennant last season. Tellingly, none of those clubs have repeated the experiment..

It remains to be seen how much of a role Essien will play in the new season for Persib. Arguably Persib weren’t in need of a midfielder, the likes of Hariono and Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan have the experience and know how to fill that role for coach Djadjang Nurdjaman. In fact you could argue while Essien gets the headlines off the pitch it is Hariono and co who will win the points on the field. And for a player used to the finer things in life how would he take to the Indonesian away days experience? Perseru for example.

Given the huge outlay, and the fact every Persib home game is a sell out anyway, the club will be looking for Essien to pay his way on other areas. They are already undoubtedly one of the biggest clubs in Indonesia. Could the signing of Essien signal the first tentative step into turning Persib into a regional powerhouse? There is no doubt his name will raise the profile of the club overseas. How will they try to cash in?

With the season less than a month away the introduction of marquee signings raises many interesting questions. They also add one more twist to what is already shaping up to being an interesting campaign.

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