Friday, July 05, 2013


United Miss Trick With Off Radar Soccer School

You don’t need to be in Jakarta long before you realize July promises to be a very special month for fans of English football.

The Premier League has grown in popularity over the last few years despite a popular domestic league but the English clubs, normally so quick to sense a pound or two, have been slow to cash in on the country.

Manchester United were slated to come in 2009 but when their hotel was bombed by a suicide bomber they cancelled while last year Everton were due to come for the Java Cup, along with Galatasaray but they too cancelled for reasons that were never really made clear but probably involve money.

From famine to feast. This coming month sees no less than three Premier League clubs passing through Jakarta; Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

And each club is pulling out all the stops to make sure their visit is a resounding success; off the field at least.
Arsenal sent former midfielder and member of the unbeaten team of 2004  Freddie Ljungberg to do some media work as well as meet the fans. His trip was preceded with a widely publicized video showing a few players getting to grips with some gamelan pieces.

Liverpool were represented by Robbie Fowler, a striker known as God on Merseyside, to replicate Ljungberg’s media work while Chelsea…well, they appointed Jose Mourinho!

It is Manchester United though who are the most popular team in Indonesia. But while the team itself is concentrating on Thailand and Australia among other destinations, they are not totally ignoring Indonesia.

The Manchester United Soccer School’s regional office is based in Singapore and they have upped sticks and decamped to South Jakarta for a couple of weeks of short holiday programmes.

Not that anyone knows the supposed biggest name in world football is here. Marketing and promotion has been minimal to say the least, a few leaflets dished out at a South Jakarta shopping mall isn’t what you would expect from such a media savvy club and while the likes of Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville were recently in Singapore, surely a mature market from their view point, to promote the school’s work there, nobody bothered to come to Indonesia.

The silence has been deafening.

With two large Manchester United supporters’ clubs in Jakarta plus the brand itself it does seem a little mystifying why the club are not doing more to push their schools in this country.

South Jakarta is a busy market for soccer schools. It is home to many wealthy people live, the target audience of course, but within a two mile radius of Lebak Bulus Stadium, which is where the Manchester United coaches were putting a handful of kids through their paces under a baking sun, there are more established academies such as Arsenal, a Brazilian themed school and a Super Soccer Skills course providing regular coaching throughout the year.

As the team from Manchester United can’t fail to have noticed, unless they slept all the way from the airport to the hotel, there are large billboards adverting Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Yet for United, the landscape looks bleak.

When Ljungberg and Fowler arrived there were fans waiting at the airport to greet them. Nobody greeted the United coaches. Indeed as they wander the malls in their free time no one gives them a second look even though one of them, Jorg Steinbrunner, has worked in Indonesia before with Medan Chiefs and Sidoarjo Deltras. In fact it is highly likely none of the kids on the course would have known that!

It is easy to accuse United of arrogance. They are after all Premier League champions and with that massive support in place you can’t help but feel they have taken the eye off the ball as far as Indonesia is concerned.

The brand is out there and Steinbrunner never signed so many autographs when he was coaching local teams. But put a man in a United shirt, give him a United embossed name card and perceptions change. 

Families want their picture taken with someone who represents United.
It was a golden opportunity yet a missed one.

Football is changing. More and more people are discovering Germans play football and Bayern Munchen shirts are more common in futsal arenas and malls while Paris Saint Germain’s recent inheritance is resulting in a growth of replica shirts sales here and middle aged Manchester City fans are still a fairly common sight.

In short there are many football clubs who do tick the right boxes for an Indonesian fan looking for a team to adopt and if United don’t put in the leg work then obviously others are.

There are plans afoot for another United camp later in the year. By then a new Premier League season will be up and running but for United at least they need to be showing a better engagement with their local support or they may find other clubs catch up with them in the popularity stakes.

SOURCE - an edited version also appears on The Jakarta Globe. The above is the original.

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