Sunday, November 12, 2017


Marquee Players Leave Indonesia Less Than Impressed

With the Liga 1 season coming to an end it's time we look back at the marquee players and how they did over the course of the campaign. Were they any that stuck out from the crowd? Were there any flops? What memories will they take from Indonesia?

The notion of the marquee player came pretty late. From my understanding Persib signed Michael Essien, the former Chelsea midfielder, then the league announced clubs would be entitled to sign four foreigners and one marquee. 

Other players followed, some familiar, others less so. Madura United signed ex West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie, Semen Padang brought in the former Spurs midfielder Didier Zokora and Mitra Kukar added ex Liverpool player Mohammad Sissoko to their ranks.

They are perhaps the best known examples but that is not to say other clubs shunned the programme. Borneo for example recruited New Zealan international Shane Smeltz who had impressed in Malaysia last season. PSM announced Wiljan Pluim, who they had signed during the second half of last season, would be their marquee while Arema brought in Juan Pino to little acclaim.

Bali United went Dutch when they signed Nick van der Velden while PS TNI's Elio Martins impressed when he first arrived. Flushed with cash from sponsorship most clubs went down the marquee route with varying levels of success.

Zokora was gone by the middle of the season. Semen Padang, normally such a stable, well run club, failed to build on the relative success of last season, in part down to Marcel Sacremento scoring far fewer goals, struggled to find any kind of consistency and come the transfer window Zokora was allowed to leave. Things didn't improve and the Padang side were ultimately relegated.

Essien was involved in one of the most controversial incidents of the season. The high risk game between Persija and Persib was moved to Solo, as usual, and Essien's Persib thought they had taken the lead in the first half when Chad striker Ezechiel N'Douassel thought he had scored with a header from close range. The ref however had different ideas and disallowed the goal and Essien, who had a perfect view of what had happened, led the protests as Persib couldn't believe their perfectly good goal had been disallowed.

Mohammad Sissoko has left his unique own mark on the title race. In fact you could say he had a direct role in Bhayangkara being crowned champions. He was sent off in the Mahakam derby between Mitra Kukar and Borneo and his team left him out of their next game which they lost 4-0. With Sissoko restored to the line up for their next game, at home to title challengers Bhayangkara Mitra Kukar drew 1-1 and it looked for all the world like Bali United would go on and be crowned champions.

The league then announced that in actual fact Sissoko had been suspended for two games, not one, hence was illegible to play against Bhayangkara and awarded the game 3-0 to the men in green. You can of course imagine the outcry this caused as those two extra points meant Simon McMenemy's team were back on top of the table and, thanks to better results in a head to head with Bali, only needed to beat Madura United to win the league for the first time in their history.

And it was in Madura where Peter Odemwingie. The Uzbekistan born striker seemed to have really taken to life in Indonesia and his 13 goals in the first half of the season helped put Madura United in the mix for the title. Then he was injured and was forced to miss a couple of months. By the time he returned Madura had lost ground on the leaders and all that was left to play for was personal pride. 

Odemwingie scored twice in his first three games on his return. Then came the game with Bhayangkara. The game was played behind closed doors, police kept fans away from the main entrance to the stadium, thronged the corridors in the main stand and the kick off was delayed as the TV channels were showing some wedding reception apparently. 

For a title decider the game was dreadful. The tackles were flying thick and fast and when Odemwingie lashed out at Bhayangkara's Indra Khahfi after being on the receiving end of some dodgy tackles, the Iranian ref had no hesitation in brandishing a straight red. Odemwingie had lost it and he looked like the kind of guy who had just had enough. Think Joey Barton playing for Queens Park Rangers against Manchester City when they won the Premier League. 

In a controversial end to a controversial season three of the highest profile marquee players played key roles in the action for good or bad. Neither of them featured in their team's last games. It could take a good agent to convince them to stay another season. Sadly for Indonesian football Essien, Sissoko and Odemwingie have many friends in football. Next time an Indonesian club comes calling for one of their mates can you imagine the type of reference they would be given?

People may want to flex their muscles. They may want to show they have 'power' and 'influence'. But beyond Indonesia's shores their names mean nothing. Football is the global game and footballers are global players. When Odemwingie, Essien and Sissoko tell the world about their experiences here, about the way a result was changed, a letter was misplaced, a kick off delayed there will only be one loser. 

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