Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 200

After 10 years writing about Indonesian football you start to take things for granted. Coaches blaming defeats on 'non technical matters', non football people involved in football, crowd disturbances leading to deaths. That kind of stuff. Back in the early days I would affect a kind of moral could this kind of thing happen here? How disgraceful. Bla bla bla. 

But as I grew accustomed to them I became blase and stopped seeing them as newsworthy. Rather, the extra curricular activities that surround football are just part of its rich tapestry. I find the phrase 'it is what it is' or 'this is Indonesia' to be an abjuration of responsibility but really, what does a foreigner complaining really bring to the table? Does it change anything? Just one more whiney voice of someone who can, if truth be told, leave anytime he wants. 

For those in a position to do something, those inside the machine and reliant on the machine for putting rice on the table, they can't just leave. For better or for worse they are stuck with a system which is top heavy and which, as mere players, they are little more than chattel to be moved around at the whim of those more powerful. Speak out too loudly and there is a risk their career is over. 

The game is reforming itself, slowly, in an organic way. Back in 2006 it was Persi- this and Persi- that. Today, attrition, local political apathy, incompetence, have combined to see the fall of all but the best managed Persi-s and in their place have come clubs with a more professional management structure. Ok so there is nothing on a par with Muang Thong United of Johor Darul Ta'zim in Indonesian football but some clubs are edging their way towards a more sustainable model.

PSIS and Persik are just two of the clubs to have been left behind. Champions in recent memory, they are now competing in the ISC B Final 16s instead of taking on the big boys in the top flight. History, tradition count for little when football clubs are reliant on local bigwigs for support and growth. The fans are there but too often the will in the corridors of power isn't.

The demise of one club though does offer an opportunity for another to take their place. With PSIS and Persik in the doldrums alongside others like PSIM and Deltras newer clubs with a savvier outlook have taken their place. For example Madura United ended Pelita Jaya's presence in the top flight by buying their latest license, Persipasi Bekasi Raya, and with some clever signings off and on the field they are looking a more professional outfit than their predecessor ever did. No one mined playing Pelita Jaya on their own ground, where ever that was, but Madura away? Crossing the Samudra Bridge to play in front of the intimidating atmosphere that is Bangkalan Stadium is not for the faint hearted.

Bali United are in the process of transforming football in Indonesia's east by opening an academy in Kupang, Timor. In only their second season, Bali United came about following the split in Samarinda that saw Persisam fans form their own side, Pusamania Borneo, while the rump of the football club was bought by investors to form Bali United. Pusamania, incidentally, took over Perseba Bangkalan, and gained promotion to the top flight in 2014.

Among the more traditional clubs, Persib and Persipura have shown they are the best equipped to adapt to the fresh new wind that is trying to shift the staid, kretek smoking old guard who have been at the heart of the game for so long. Persib, with their unrivalled fan base, when they say 'West Java is ours' it is no understatement while Persipura have the advantage of deep pocketed sponsors to keep them challenging for honours; in the Indonesia Super League they have only ever finished champions or runners up.

It does seem ironic that as Indonesia floundered under a FIFA ban the game has in some respects made great strides in tidying itself up. The Indonesia Soccer Championship may not be an official league with promotion and relegation but it is an improvement on the ISL in the way it is marketed and covered. There are plenty of live games shown, advertising is coming from private companies and not just the state owned enterprises who got involved in the past for perhaps less than altruistic reasons.  There is even an attractive, easy to navigate website for the league as well as a handy app that are frequently updated. A massive leap forward compared with the creaky websites of old.

Things are still by no means perfect. Dodgy decisions aren't just a convenient excuse thrown out by defeated coaches who then remain silent when they are the beneficiaries. There is a lack of basic infrastructure like stadiums afflicting most of the country; Persija, Persib, Persela, PS TNI, Arema have all played home games at more than one ground. And there is the uncertainty the upcoming PSSI elections will bring; how will the winning candidate seek to impose his will on the organisation and how will he improve the game in the country?

But there is much to be positive about. People like to say Thailand has the best league in South East Asia. To that I say ya boo sucks. The salaries may be higher but do you want to see a game between Ratchaburi v Bangkok United or head to Indonesia and watch Persib v PSM? The former is as manufactured as it gets, clubs rise and fall at the whim of their political masters and when they do ebb the fans lose interest. Not just in their club but in football. The game lacks roots, heritage and history. Too often the Thai games I have been to are just excuses for fans to take selfies, paint their faces and spend money in the club shop. Sanuk yes but then so was collecting Snoopy figurines years back. 

Indonesian football has passion, intrigue, potential, history. It has second tier clubs attracting some of the largest crowds not just in Indonesia but South East Asia. It has a newer breed of excellent coaches doing their bit not just to build successful teams but also develop players. It  has so many things going for it yet you just know somewhere along the line there will be a step backwards to counter any progress. But that is part of development of anything anywhere in the world. 

On the international stage Indonesia probably won't win the upcoming ASEAN Football Championships later this year. It is difficult to see them qualifying for the World Cup any time soon let alone the AFC Asian Cup. Player for player they are probably behind the Thais and the Vietnamese. But at club level anyone with a truly regional vision could turn the likes of Persib, Arema, Persebaya, Persija into powerhouses.They certainly  have all the ingredients.

It is too easy to knock Indonesian football and to be fair I have at times been critical and lets face it, what a 10 years it has been. Two leagues, two associations, two national teams preparing for same competition...I could go on and I usually do. But why not also celebrate the positive and there is much to be excited about. I for one can't wait for the ISL to return and with it a second tier made of of 60, 70 odd clubs. 

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