Thursday, April 27, 2017


Mind The Gap

Last night I watched Muang Thong United defeated Brisbane Roar 3-0 in the AFC Champions League group stage. It was their third win from five group stage games and leaves them with 11 points with one game remaining against Kashima Antlers in Japan. They have already confirmed their place in the knock out stage of the competition, now it is just a question of whether they finish first or second.

They also started the 2017 Thai T1 season with a run of six straight wins and are top of the table, one point clear of perennial rivals Buriram United. They boast a strong squad featuring the likes of Kawin Thamsatchanan, Teerasil Dangda, Thherathon Bunmathon, Chanathip Songkrasin and Adisak Kraisorn. For an import player they have the Spaniard Xisco and former South Korean international Lee Ho. They are coached by Thai legend Tawan Sripan, have built their own tidy little stadium and are bloody rich thanks to the backing of a media company and a collection of sponsors that would have many English clubs drooling. 

Sponsors? Yep. A cement company. A budget airline. A soda manufacturer. A private hospital. Mobile phone service provider. An insurance company. A motor cycle manufacturer. A camera maker. A beer. A sports drink producer. There are more. But do you get the point. The football club that effectively came into being in 2007 have become a leading player not just in Thailand, not just South East Asia but across the whole of the Asian continent.

Then we have Persija Jakarta. Founded in 1928 they can lay claim to being one of Indonesia's biggest clubs but that is down more to their massive fan base, one Muang Thong can only dream about, rather than any success on the pitch. While Muang Thong have been crowned four times since being promoted to Thailand's top flight, the last the Persija enjoyed any kind of success was in 2001 when they were crowned champions of what was then known as Liga Indonesia. Since then they have won the Trofeo Persija in 2011, 2012 and 2014. That last year they shared the trofeo with two other teams after every game ended 0-0.

Despite their huge fan base Persija have struggled financially. Lacking a home stadium hasn't helped. While Muang Thong have developed what was little more than a field into a compact stadium in eight years Persija have played home games in, deep breath, Jakarta, Bekasi, Semarang, Solo, Yogyakarta, Malang, Sidoarjo, Madura, and Bali. There may be more. 

The club have no home stadium, this season they will be sharing Patriot Stadium in Beksi with Bhayangkara. They have no regular training field. Instead they flit around Jakarta and its suburbs in search of a vacant field much like a Sunday league team would. And many of their local players live together in shared accommodation. Difficult to imagine the Muang Thong United players doing that.

Against this background perhaps the most surprising news of the week came from Persija when they proudly told the world they didn't need any more sponsors. Yeap, words that would have Arsenal's Ivan Gazidis, Manchester United's Ed Woodward and Spurs' Daniel Levy choking on their Corn Flakes. Persija do not need any more sponsors. They have enough money.

While clubs like Persib, Bali United and even second tier Celebest have shirts weighed down in official sponsors, Persija feel having two sponsor emblems is enough. We're talking about the biggest club in th elargest city of the fourth largest country on earth and they think two sponsors is enough to compete in a football season. It may be enough but ambitious football clubs do not do 'enough'. 

This is not about competing to have the most brand names on the shirt. Sponsorship can come in many different forms, a look at the web sites of clubs like Muang Thong United, Gamba Osaka and 1FC Koln to see how many sponsors they have on board. You can't check the Persija is down.

Sadly the notion that enough is enough highlights the cavernous difference that exists between so many Indonesian clubs and their Thai peers. With investment and management Persija could be one of THE big clubs in South East Asia. They have tradition, history and support. Muang Thong are johnny come latelys in comparison. However when it comes to a vision, when it comes to purpose Muang Thing are so far ahead the words mind the gap seem pointless. 

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