Monday, April 29, 2019


Involvement In Asia Needs More Than Branded Academies

There is currently going on in Malaysia, World Football Summit, one of those grandly sounding conferences where people mostly in suits gather round and give or listen to presentations from other people in suits where they waffle on about topics such as fan engagement, brand building and the building of branded academies which, some big clubs will have us believe, will help foster the development of local football. 

Writing from an Indonesian perspective waffle is the correct, if not very business school speak, word. Academies have sprung up over the years with much hype and the presence of one or two VIPs jetted in from mother ship to smile at the launch and shake hands before quietly falling off the radar as clubs realise merely their name alone isn't enough to generate the returns they are seeking.

For a start the big clubs aren't interesting in developing local football despite their flowery words. Their priority lies in developing their brand and using the host country to provide a revenue stream that can be funnelled back home. 

Hence they charge high start up costs and franchise fees which don't take into account the reality on the ground. These charges ensure only a limited number of people would have any interest in getting involved given the deep pockets they need just to start the ball rolling and let's be honest here, not every business person becomes rich by following rules, do they?

Once a franchise is agreed and has paid their money it is now they who are looking to covering their costs and not just their costs but the fees to the club back in Europe so they then pass on these large fees to the customer so, by don't of the business model adopted by the club, their target audience is already much reduced even before any cones are set out on a playing field.

These strict financial demands mean the academy is immediately looking to keep costs to a minimum and one way they do this is in their overheads which means of course key infrastructure of an academy like pitches and coaches are secured on the cheap.

So, we end up with a piss poor product for which parents will be expected to pay over the odds.

And who's going to buy this product? Again, given the prices involved it's going to be the parents of sons and daughters with enough disposable income to afford the high fees. Parents who, for example, use Apple phones, drive Mercedes and go on shopping trips to Singapore not because they need them, a Jakarta traffic jam is the same nightmare whether you are on a bus or in a Merc, but because they see them as explicit displays of their 'perceived' status.

For them, little Johnny playing at an EPL branded academy is just one more boast in their arsenal of braggadocio. Yes, Johnny can run around, even get his knees but don't ever be under the illusion they will ever be a footballer. Oh no, rather like Nigel in the XTC classic, their future is already mapped out for them and includes university studying business and medicine, not the advantages of zonal marking when playing 10 men.

High costs, poorly paid staff, brand-happy rich kids doesn't really add up to a successful product does it but by the time the western club realises this it's too late.

If any big club is genuinely interested in developing football in Asia they need to re-examine their relationship with Asia and move beyond the arms outstretched with begging bowl approach. There are thousands of academies active in villages across Indonesia (known locally as SSBs) and that is where the future stars will come from, not the sons and daughters of well off doctors and bankers.

Do some homework, get out into the villages, get your knees dirty and work with them. Take coaches to your own training ground, and yes pay for it yourself, even organise a village/district competition where the winner is taken to your own training ground. Offer incentives to people, don't just jet in big names in business class and expect your local partner to foot the bill.

Make the partnership a real partnership with a two way relationship rather than just looking to make a quick buck. Until these western clubs change the way they see Asia then there is the likelihood Asia will eventually see their involvement for what it really is and turn away.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019


Introducing Kalteng Putra

The 2019 Piala Presiden semi finals kick off today with an unfamiliar name as newly promoted Kalteng Putra take on 2017 winners Arema at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in East Java. It's been quite a remarkable few months for Kalteng in which they have been promoted from Liga 2 and now are just 180 minutes from reaching the first major final in their history.

But do Kalteng Putra even have any history? The club was formed back in 1970 as Persepar Palangkaraya, a town on the south coast of the island of Borneo that is perhaps better known as an alternate site for Indonesia's capital as fears over Jakarta's uncontrolled expansion worried many.

Based in the province of Central Kalimantan, known in Indonesian as Kalimantan Tengah (hence Kalteng) the club changed its name during the dualism era back in 2013 and have the spent the last few seasons in the second tier.

All that changed last season of course when they finished runners' up of the eastern conference with no little help from a near invincible home record; from their 11 games in Palangkaraya they won nine and drew two, conceding just five goals along the way.

Drawn alongside Semen Padang, Aceh United and PSMP in the play offs the team nicknamed Borneo Hornbills continued their impressive form in front of their own fans winning all three games and finishing runners up behind Semen Padang and assuring a place in the semi finals.

They were drawn against PSS but were unable to optimise home advantage this time round as the Yogyakarta based side held out for a 0-0 draw. Back in Sleman two goals from the veteran striker Cristian Gonzales ensured it would be the home side which would be playing for Liga 2 champions while Kalteng Putra would battle it out for the final promotion place against Persita in neutral Cibinong. 

First half goals from Dendi Agustan and another well travelled forward I Made Wirahadi earned the Hornbills a top in the top flight for the first time in their history.

With no sign of the Liga 1 campaign for a few months all eyes were focused on the Piala Presiden as Kalteng Putra sought to make the marquee signings which would lay down a marker for the new season. 

Former Madura United coach Gomes de Oliveira was brought in to mould a team that could handle life in the top flight and he has tried to assemble a team of experienced old pros who know their way around the division. 

Kushedya Hari Yudo, their top scorer in 2018, was allowed to move, ironically signing for fellow promoted side PSS and in his p;ace has come the vastly experienced Patrich Wanggai who counts Persipura, Sriwijaya, Borneo, Madura United and Persib among others on his extensive resume as well as stints in Timor Leste and Malaysia. 

Journeyman defender Bobby Satria has also come in to provide experience at the back but youthful promise hasn't been ignored as Maldini Pali, one of a number of Indonesian players to have been named after famous footballers, although now 24 it is surely time he started to deliver on his promise rather than being known for his name.

Kalteng Putra came out on top of their group which featured PSIS, Persipura and PSM thanks to a better head to head with two goals from Wanggai helping to help the team to come from behind and beat Persipura in the final game.

Their reward for reaching the knock out stage was a quarter final tie away to Persija and again it was Wanggai leading from the front, giving the Hornbills the lead in Bekasi in front of 27,000 + with nine minutes gone in the second half. Persija's Bruno Matos levelled with 18 minutes remaining to send the game into penalties and despite I Gede Sukadana missing their first they held on to win 5-4 and so to the semi finals.

At the start of the competition I wrote we rarely see any upsets in cup competition. In normal circumstances overcoming PSM and Persija would count as shocks but with both teams distracted by the AFC Cup perhaps we can discount them. But were Kalteng Putra to overcome Arema over two legs, the second leg will take place in Banjarmasin, then I think yes, we would be witnessing some good old fashioned cup upsets which may delight an old fogey like me but won't impress the TV companies or sponsors who don't really get romance in football!

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