Sunday, October 08, 2017


New Names Challenge For Glory But Old Problems Remain

In my first season following Indonesian football the top flight was known as Liga Indonesia and was split into two groups of 14 teams divided approximately into east and west. Of those 28 teams just Arema, Sriwijaya, PKT Bontang and Deltras weren't named after their local football association (persi... or perse...) while not all of them were privately owned.

From those 28, eight went on to reach the quarter finals; Persik, PSIS, Arema, Persiba, Persekabpas, Persimin, Persija and PSM. Eleven years on and only Arema, Persiba, Persija and PSM remain in the rebranded Liga 1. PSIS are in the second round of Liga 2, Persik failed to make the cut and the remaining sides are in Liga 3, anonymous to all but the hardcore football fan. Ironically it was the two Liga 2 sides who met in the grand final with Persik lifting the trophy after defeating PSIS 1-0.

Fast forward 11 unimaginably eventful years and we have a Liga 1 that features just 10 Persi or Perse sides. After years of mergers, acquisitions, geographical gymnastics and parachuting a new generation of football club are attempting to change the football landscape. But despite the new names many of the problems that have blighted the beautiful game in recent years and show no sign of going away any time soon.

New names litter the football map, names that didn't exist 11 years ago, but there is still a sense of injustice that permeates the game, that the FIFA Fair Play banner is nothing more than a banner with meaningless words and decisions are taken, both on and off the field, to benefit a privileged group of clubs only.

From a footballing romantic point of view it is a shame to see clubs like Persebaya, PSMS, PSIS and PSIM playing in Liga 2 and Deltras, Persitara and Persema a step below. Some clubs have fallen by the wayside, others absorbed into newer entities and others blighted by years of local apathy. And let's not mention those who have had the misfortune to have, possibly, acquired powerful enemies at court.

Frustration at the way the league is being run this season have been rumbling all season. There was the pre season farce of one particular club making a big money signing then lobbying for the introduction of a marquee player system across the league. Then there was the limit on over age players, on young players which was dropped midway through the campaign. PSM coach Robert Alberts has been a frequent critic of the organisation of Liga 1 for example; local coaches tend to grin and bear it more because they have no choice, or, sad to say, ambition.

Fifteen clubs recently announced a desire to 'strike' if things didn't change, to withdraw from the league. The three clubs who are quite happy with how things are going? Persib, Bali United and PS TNI. The PSSI, under a military man who was elected earlier this year and is also standing in an election to be governor of North Sumatra, says fine, if they want to stop, stop. He will just cancel the league. 'It isn't a problem if they (the 15 clubs) don't want to play again.'

At a time when football needs stability it seems we are heading for yet more chaos and surely I'm not alone in hoping calmer heads prevail and we can end this season calmly and start a new one calmly. Recent years suggest otherwise.

All this backroom bickering means what should be a thrilling climax to a thrilling season is going to be played out under a heavy cloud of wounded egos and battered pride. The goals of Bali United's Sylvano Comvalius, the arrival on the scene of Bhayangara's Ilham Uddin and the consistency of Persija's Andritany are overlooked by off the field shenanigans which do little to improve the reputation of Indonesian football at home let alone raise its standard internationally. 

Hell, we even had the national team Under 19 coach Indra Sjafri come out and say he had been approached by a political party looking to associate with his current success and fame. 

Too many people use football for their own ends and that is a major reason why the game in this country has not, is not and will not make any meaningful progress despite all the new names. 

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