Wednesday, November 08, 2017


Mystery As Liga 1 Decision Puts Bhayangkara In Pole Position

Bhayangkara - Champions Elect?
A few months back I wrote about wayang, a puppet show where the puppet master sits behind a screen and manipulates puppets while telling a story. Understanding the concept of wayang goes a long way to understanding Indonesian and the myriad WTF moments that colour life here. Whenever something happens a little out of the ordinary, which is quite often, my first thought is who benefits? Why has this happened, why now and who benefits?

That there are hidden puppet masters pulling the strings of football's stakeholders is nothing new of course. You think the rebel Liga Primer Indonesia was about football? Think again! And sadly the 2017 season is perhaps even more evidence football isn't just about 90 minutes. For some football is about ego, power and, more importantly, having the power to project that power.

When Bali United defeated PSM in Makassar thanks to Stefano Lillipaly's injury time winner it seemed the Liga 1 season had taken yet another tortuous turn in a season of tortuous twists and turns. That late, late victory, which produced surely one of the iconic pictures of the season with the PSM goalkeeper Rivky Mokodompit slumped against a goal posted looking thoroughly dejected, embracing a couple of sobbing supporters, ended PSM's title challenge and surely thrust Bali into pole position.

The three points saw them go two points clear at the top of the table with a superior goal difference ahead of Bhayangkara with the latter facing tough games against Madura United and Persija needing maximum points to be crowned champions themselves. Advantage Bali United. Or so we thought.

On 23rd October middle of the table Borneo beat middle of the table Mitra Kukar 4-0 in the Mahakam Derby. A surprise result perhaps but not one that would have had any great significance on the title race. One would have thought. Mitra Kukar's midfielder M Sissoko, yep the player who used to play for Liverpool, was red carded in the last minute. 

Normally a red card sees a player sit out the next game and dutifully Mitra Kukar left the Malian international out of their next game away to Persib. 

Twenty four hours before Mitra Kukar's next game, against Bhayangkara no less, Liga 1 apparently sent a letter advising advising 26 year old defender Herwin Tri Saputra would be illegible to play against Bhayangkara because of accumulation of yellow cards. The game went ahead 3rd November sans Saputra, but with Sissoko back in the line up, and ended 1-1. No one seemed to think too much about it at the time. Valuable points dropped by Bhayangkara yes but they were still in the title race.

Now comes news Sissoko shouldn't have played with Liga 1 claiming Sissoko should not have played in this game. Apparently the league had discussed the Sissoko case on 28th October but had, so it seems, left out details of his suspension from their letter they sent on 2nd November. Despite this apparent oversight/SNAFU, Liga 1 have decided to award the game to Bhayangkara 3-0 thus putting them back on top of Liga 1 ahead of Bali United based upon their head to head.

Tonight sees Bhayangkara play Madura United and that is another story. The teams were due to meet last month but Madura United were told they could not play a couple of home games in Madura following crowd disturbances. The club claimed they couldn't find another venue in time but rather than be punished for failing to hold a fixture the game was rearranged. Tonight's game will be played in Madura but spectators are not allowed inside the stadium. They are however being encouraged to gather outside!

Bhayangkara's last game of the season is against Persija in Bekasi. Officially a home game, given their support, and Persija's it will be to all intents and purposes a Persija home game. To add more twists and turns the Persija president was at one time the president of Bhayangkara. Indeed until recently Bhayangkara's official Instagram account used to hashtag this guy's name.

With everything now pointing to Bhayangkara winning the title, though we can expect more twists and turns in the final few days, we now know if they are crowned champions they won't be allowed to compete in the AFC Champions League because they don't have the proper licencing the AFC requires. 

As you can imagine, many football fans aren't happy with the way things are panning out. Most recognise Bhayangkara are a good team. Well coached by Simon McMenemy, they boast promising young players like Putu Gede and Evan Dimas as well as experienced players like Firman Utina and Ilija Spasojevic. But there is little respect for the football club which is mocked for having no history and no fans. 

There are also deeper concerns over what a Bhayangkara title success would say about the state of Indonesian football. Bhayangkara are of course a rebranded PS Polri, the police side that has only recently embraced professional football. And the PSSI are no run by a serving military officer. There is of course much discussion over this recent uniform interest in football and, in true wayang style, what is going on behind the scenes. The events of the last few days have done nothing to ease those concerns.

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