Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Persib Fans Take To The Streets To Protest Club Management

Yesterday saw hundreds of Persib fans take to the streets to complain about the management of their football club and what they see as the malaise that is engulfing the club. Their team had just ended a run of five draws by losing 2-1 away to title challengers but while that disappointing result, the home side had scored a last minute winner, it was not the main cause. Discontent has been rumbling all season.

Despite winning the Indonesia Super League back in 2014, they remain reigning champions following the FIFA suspension, and despite boasting one of the more commercially aware football clubs in the country it is clear the football club haven't kicked on in a way they were expected to following that famous night in Palembang when they defeated Persipura to be crowned champions.

Their coach that night, Djadjang Nurdjaman, was farmed out to Inter for a while, a shared ownership structure at the time enabled that, to complete his coaching badges and the highly rated Dejan Antonic, once touted for the national team job, was brought in. Persib however struggled during the Indonesia Soccer Championship to find any consistency despite bringing in highly rated Juan Belencoso and the fans soon turned on Antonic and combative midfielder Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan.

Antonic was eventually replaced and Djadjang returned, the conquering hero returning to the scene of his greatest triumph and, surely, with a wealth of knowledge gained from observing how Inter went about their business.

But Persib aren't Inter. The club DNA is vastly different for a start. Inter have been a professional football club for decades with a history and infrastructure designed to outlast individuals. That is not the case in Bandung where many feel too much power is tied up in the hands of officials who call the shots. 

Even when Persib were winning the titles there were question marks among supporters over his team selections and tactics but all the while they were winning and could look to genuinely talented players like Makan Konate and the iconic Montenegran journeyman defender Vladimir Vujovic they had the wherewithal to plaster over any tactical inadequacies. 

Persib started the 2017 season by splashing serious cash recruiting the likes of Carlton Cole, Michael Essien and Raphael Maitimo, headline makers all. Cole struggled with injury and it was clear the main men at the football club didn't fancy him with the club manager saying he wanted him out only to backtrack a couple of days later following a meeting with the owner. Against this backdrop Djadjang, who was still being questioned over his tactical nous, was having to select teams that balanced differing agendas behind the scenes along with his own views on how a team should be set up for any given game. Following one loss the manager came out publicly and said what many of us had always assumed; he would be taking an even more hands on role in player selection.

Cole was eventually released from his agony while Essien has proved to be a consistent performer and Maitimo, after a slow start, has shown us what a technically gifted player he is in recent weeks. 

But the Persib fans, the Bobotoh, were not impressed by the big name recruits. All that mattered to them was what the players did on the pitch and if they felt they were underperforming they were quick to let their feelings known. One banner appeared at games that summed up their feelings 'We are Persib till we die, you are Persib till your contract ends'. They were disappointed not just by the results as the team again struggled to find consistency but also how certain players were being perceived to receive favourable treatment while others, who had Persib blue blood running through their veins, were quickly dropped or cast aside.

It does seem ironic in a season when some much money had been spent acquiring bling the most promising performances had come from younger, unheralded players who perhaps had only played when the league had introduced its controversial regulation forcing clubs to play a minimum number of players aged under 23. In came the likes of Gian Zola, Febri Hariyadi and Billy Keraf and the Bobotoh drooled over their promise and performance but groaned when they were dropped as Djadjang continued to tinker with the squad.

Supporters turned against the coach who had brought them success back in 2014 as results showed no signs of improving. After one game a handful invaded the pitch to protest at the inertia in their club, openly sobbing in the players' arms. There was talk Djadjang was gone, the talk was then denied then the rumours started up again. The indecisiveness only added to the uncertainty swirling around the club and the fans fed on it. The suggestion in some circles seemed to be Persib were having difficulties finding a replacement for the hapless Djadjang who clung on in there despite all the bad press. It was said he resigned at one stage only to be told the club refused to accept his resignation so he stayed.

And who would want to work in such a cauldron of competing power bases and strong egos? When Kiatisuk Senamuang stepped down as Thai national team coach he was quickly linked with the Persib position but he elected to join Port instead, a yo yo Thai club with their own problems behind the scenes. He didn't last long there but at least he could understand the backbiting. 

Djadjang finally left and he was replaced by Emral Abus who had previously been their 'official' coach during their 2015 AFC Cup campaign, brought in because the AFC insisted competing clubs must have an A licensed coach, much like Indonesia does, but actually enforced the regulation, much unlike Indonesia. 

The arrival of Emral left the supporters feeling underwhelmed. No one knew what his real role was in the club despite the job title and anyway he was hardly the type of character who was going to stand up against the busybodies behind the scenes. 

Persib have lost just one game in their last 10 but the seven draws in that run hurt and while relegation is unlikely they remain closer to the drop zone than a place that could see them in the AFC Cup. Much like the Arsenal it seems Persib are content to
just float along. They don't lose many games, they are on TV often which brings its own financial rewards of course and that is it. The fans see things differently. They see themselves as Persib, the biggest club in Indonesia and potentially one of the biggest in ASEAN. They don't want to see the club riven by infighting and meekly playing for scraps each match day. They expect their team to be challenging for honours and now they are far from that ideal.

One of the accusations they are throwing at the club is Persib have become too obsessed with money, that are now better known as Per$ib. There may be an element of truth in that, top clubs need to make money if they are to compete, but Persib aren't competing so the fans are asking where the money is going and why should they be asked to keep handing over hard earned cash for a club lacking ambition. As an Arsenal fan I get that argument!

Fair play to Persib, they actually reported the protests on their official twitter feed but will they heed the warnings from their supporters? Unlike in England, Indonesian fans will boycott games to make 
their voices heard. Will it need empty terraces to force the club management to come to their senses and make the necessary off field changes or do the club genuinely feel everything is in place to repeat the 2014 success again?

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