An off beat look at Indonesian and South East Asian football from the terraces or the pub
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Time For A Brunei Philippines Singapore Super League?
Selangor coach B. Satianathan came out recently and said Singaporean and Brunei clubs could join the Malaysian league. Soon after, an impromptu poll on Twitter had a majority of respondents in favour of a Singapore team back in Malaysia.
All very interesting and something that taps into an idea I've had rattling around in my empty head over the last few days.
But first of all I don't think Malaysia needs the infusion of foreign teams. What it does need is strong, local sides to put pressure on Johor Daul Ta'zim's hegemony and hopefully the move away from murky, nepotistic associations to more transparent clubs will be a step in the right direction. A strong, well run Selangor or Kelantan would do more for the competitiveness of the league than any team from Brunei can ever hope to achieve.
Just as leagues like those in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam should be strong enough to stand on their own two feet, and would find any ASEAN Super League an inconvenient distraction from already crowded schedules, surely countries like Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines could do worse than to look out of the box.
Domestically Singapore has been dominated by foreign teams in recent years with DPMM and Albirex Niigata winning the last five seasons. The pandemic has hit the Philippines hard with Ceres Negros being sold and Global facing expulsion against the backdrop of a league that struggles for fans.
Would an ASEAN mini-Super League be a solution to that particular trio of countries, a BPS Super League?
By bringing together for example the top three Singaporean sides, top two Philippine and DPMM into a single league it would ensure the better teams would be playing against stronger opposition on a regular basis rather than the hit and miss affairs they tend to get in their local leagues.
Based upon the 2019 season it would mean Tampines Rovers, Hougang United and Geylang International would go toe to toe with United City nee Ceros-Negros and Kaya-Iloilo as well as MS ABDB from Brunei.
Given the financial woes being faced by the Philippine sides, this mini league could be played in single city or venue and be rotated around the countries each year. Each team would play each other twice and like in a normal league, winner takes all.
Key though would be the respective domestic leagues would continue and at the end of their seasons there could be a play off between the title winners to decide which team gets promoted while the bottom side in the BPS Super League would be relegated. This would mean all clubs still have something to play for and the BPS Super League clubs could still compete in their own domestic cup competitions.
More importantly, it would need to have a strong management structure overseeing financing and marketing, much like the Indian Super League, and they would be responsible to go out there and secure the financing and sponsorship to ensure the league can be viable.
The Philippines has good players but needs well run clubs. Brunei has money. Singapore has infrastructure. By combining these resources and adding some stardust is there a potential recipe for a successful league that would attract fans and improve the game in their respective countries?
Interesting to see two experienced coaches taking the reigns of a lowly Liga 3 side
Kas Hartadi is the new coach of Persipat with Ibnu Grahan coming in as Technical Director.
Kas led Sriwijaya to the ISL back in 2011/12 but if you think that piece of bling on his resume was enough for him to walk into top jobs then Indonesian football doesn't work that way.
Pati in Central Java is also home to Rudy Eka Priyambada's academy where the two coaches had been most recently working.
Escaping Liga 3 is no easy feat. In fact trying to follow it isn't easy either.
Persijap won the title last season but only after a long, tortuous season that saw them play in a regional league then go into some play offs before a national round that eventually led to semi finals and finals.
While some accounts do their best to keep up with Liga 3, the different regions operate at their own slow pace and not all are, shall we say, media savvy.
As for 2020, there have been suggestions Liga 3 won't even happen this season Personally I hope it does. I may not get to see many games but it doesn't half improve my geography!
Pictured below are PSKC fans at their Liga 3 2019 semi final against Persekat at Siliwangi Stadium. That was a story and a half! The game was initially slated for Si Jalak Harupat so off we set to Soreang only to find no-one seemed to have a scooby. With kick off time rapidly approaching we took a gamble and made for Siliwangi Stadium in Bandung. There was no communication from clubs or liga through social media but given the large number of Perssekat fans at Siliwangi, someone somehow must have known where the game was to be played...just not the general public!
In 2018 there were 28 teams in Liga 3 Central Java...who knows how many there will be in 2020. It's gonna be interesting to see how the experienced Kas does at this level.
A businessman is looking to start a new club in Sidoarjo, East Java.
He initially looked at buying Deltras, now in Liga 3, but balked at the price so is looking at forming his own.
Sidoarjo is pretty much a suburb of Surabaya, a pretty big suburb with a population of some 200,000 while the greater Sidoarjo district has more than a couple of million. Most of whom will follow Persebaya!
I recall watching Deltras play Arema in front of 35,000 many years back. The game was played in pouring rain and Acmad Kurniawan, now sadly passed away, had a blinder
It's a city with potential and a good stadium for a well run club.
There is a second club, Persida, which is part of the local government but the investor doesn't seem to want to go down that route. In fact, there was a story a few years back suggesting Deltras and Persid had joined forces to become Sidoarjo United. Wonder what became of that little daliance?
Deltras, it's worth pointing out, initially came from Bali!
Among the names the businessman is considering are Delta Sidoarjo and, umm, Sidoarjo FC!
The changing face of Indonesian football. In 2020 there were 33 teams in three regionalised groups. Only Semen Padang, Gresik United, Mitra Kukar and Deltras didn't feature the acronym PS (Persatuan Sepakbola) in one form or another - although the Mitra Kukar does show a PS it is rarely used.
Today the scene is much different as can be seen by this graphic. Now, half the clubs in Liga 2 lack a PS in their name. Many familiar names have fallen by the wayside, lost due to local political apathy or mergers, while new names have risen to the fore.
Clubs like Arema, Bali United and Sriwijaya have left their mark on the Indonesian football scene, will the likes of Badak Lampang and Sulut United go on to make similar lasting impressions?
I have written previously about the consolidation of football clubs previously including this piece from last year
While this piece looks at the disappearance of Papuan clubs from the national landscape
KAMUNTING: The stocky body has become pencil-thin, the trademark thick moustache has turned grey, along with his hair. The muscular legs that sent fear into the hearts of strikers are now withered and he is in a wheelchair.
Wearing a grey Adidas shirt that matched his hair, he was calm, but the moment the subject turned to the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, the face of Datuk Namat Abdullah lit up.
Even at 74, the memories of that historic feat – when Malaysia featured in Olympics football for the first time – are fresh in his mind.
In 1971, Malaysia had topped the Olympics qualification group, beating South Korea (1-0), Japan (3-0), China (3-0) and the Philippines (5-0) to qualify for the Games.
“I still remember the Olympics very clearly, we were the first Malaysian team to qualify but there was no big fanfare about it, ” said Namat.
“In fact, we did not even get new jerseys or sparkling boots – we were just a bunch of kampung players ready for the fight of their lives.
“Nowadays, players have several jerseys to choose from but we did not even get one. I wore the national jersey that I had in 1968. It was a four-year old jersey but we wore it proudly at the Olympics, ” said Namat, who received RM10 daily as allowance during the Olympics.
“Even our hosts, the West Germans, noticed our old boots during training. I was using an Adidas La Plata, it was more than a year old. I used to repair my boots at a workshop in Penang Prison, where I worked.
“The Germans were gracious. They gave us two pairs of boots each. I remember we went to this Adidas shop there. Just imagine the excitement. We got to choose a six-stud boot for soft grounds and a 13-stud one for hard surface.”
The Malaysians may have been grateful to the Germans for the Adidas 2000 boots, but on the field, the fierce rivalry remained.
The little-known team from Malaysia comprising Namat and his brother Shaharuddin, M. Chandran, Othman Abdullah, Soh Chin Aun, Khoo Huan Khen, Hamzah Hussain, Wan Zawawi Wan Yusof, V. Krishanasamy, Ibrahim Salleh, Harun Jusoh, Wong Kam Fook, Ali Bakar, Mohd Bakar, Lim Fung Kee, Wong Choon Wah, Rahim Abdullah, Looi Loon Teik and Bahwandi Hiralal and led by team manager Datuk Harun Idris certainly made heads turn – even holding the hosts, who had big names like Ottmar Hitzfeld and Uli Hoeness, for almost an hour before losing 0-3.
The team, coached by Jalil Che Din, eventually finished third in their group – they beat the United States 3-0 but lost 6-0 to Morocco.
“Chandran was the captain, I was the vice-captain and we fought hard against West Germany, the first half was magical as we didn’t give them any space to score, ” said the defender, who with Chandran and Chin Aun formed an impregnable Malaysia wall.
“But they pressured us in the second half and we collapsed after the first goal (in the 56th minute).
“The referee said we played like Brazil, even the German players were shaking our hands, and patting our backs.
“Nothing is impossible for any players if they work hard at it.”
Namat (seated, second from right) with the 1972 Olympics squad.
It was the only time a Malaysian football had played in the Olympics. The team led by Chin Aun and legendary striker Mokhtar Dahari qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow but Malaysia did not go because of a boycott.
“There has been so much spoken and written about Mokhtar and the 1980 team. Our team have been forgotten. But football is not about one player or hero. Everyone in the team is equally important, ” said Namat.More importantly, Namat remembers the wonderful ties he had with his team members although they were of different races and religions.
“We ate together, visited one another.
“We were a family and there was no one better than the other.”
When his playing career ended, another door opened as he took up coaching with the national team but that did not last long.
“Players need to respect their coaches. If there is no discipline, it will not work. I was frustrated as a coach as not many listened and I gave up, ” said Namat, who then decided to play tennis for Penang Prisons before eventually giving up competitive sports.
The years have taken their toll as his body has grown quite fragile, especially after a stroke. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer two years ago.
But the years have also brought him much experiences, and Namat said Malaysia should not give up on striving for excellence at the highest level and believed there are ways to restore the glory days of Malaysian football.
“We can revive leagues at different levels in the country. There were many leagues in districts and states before, ” he said.
“Juniors need to have a thriving league too.
“There are many coaches now, but they should not just stand outside the field and give orders. They should not cekak pinggang (hold their waists) but turun padang (get on the field). There are more specific coaches in the team now. Hopefully, they will not outnumber the players, ” he joked.
Seriously, though, what he would like to see is more quality players and passionate fans.
“Players of this era are distracted by big money and different lifestyles but it can be managed with the right attitude, ” he said.
“During one of the Merdeka Tournament matches, the fans broke the gates to enter Stadium Merdeka to watch the team play. They were so passionate. We need fans who are with the team, in victories and defeats.”
Namat himself is an ardent fan of Liverpool and is just so grateful that he got the chance to see his team win the Premier League title after 30 years.
“Those days, we used to watch all the late night matches on television – in black and white, ” recalled Namat, who has a supportive wife in Datin Mahani Sulaiman. He also has seven children and 16 grandchildren.
“The game has evolved, others have progressed. Everything is not the same anymore. I just hope for Malaysian football to change in the right direction, ” he added.
Yesterday, newly promoted Persik announced a change to their coaching set-up with incumbent Joko Susilo becoming Technical Director local legend Budi Sudarsono stepping up from assistant to run the show.
The two-time champions have had a hard time of it in recent years, essentially falling off the football map into the unchartered depths of Liga 3 but back to back promotions, winning the Liga 3 and Liga 2 titles along the way, have see the Macan Putih back at the top table.
Typically, in England if a top player becomes a coach at a top club 'just like that' there is much wailing and gnarling of teeth at the perceived injustice. What about those who work their way up from the bottom, they cry.
Indonesian football is far more egalitarian than England with its hierarchies and cult of personality. Coaches don't feel they have some kind of right to demand the top jobs, they take what is available. Hence, you find Kas Hartadi, who led Sriwijaya to the ISL in 2011/12, not being able to walk into jobs at the likes of Persib or Arema but drifting between clubs like Persikabo, Persik and Kalteng Putra before returning to Palembang.
But Budi is no Johnny Come Lately. He has worked as an assistant at Kalteng Putra and Persik for the last three seasons.
As a player, Budi was a Persik legend. He shone in the 2006 title winning campaign alongside Cristian Gonzales, Danilo Fernando and Ronald Fagundez and went on to make quite an impression in the subsequent AFC Champions League campaign.
Pace merchants are 10 a rupiah in Indonesia and many players have gone on to make a career for themselves purely on their whippet-like speed. Budi, nicknamed the Python, was different. He combined speed with intelligence and technical ability and an eye for goal as can be witnessed in the video below. He was the type of player who had fans on the edge of their seats.
Let's see if he will have a similar impact in the dugout for his beloved Persik!
Very few people outside of the Philippines associate the archipelago with football. It's close links with the USA mean many there prefer rounders and netball and the round ball game struggled to attract any interest beyond a small band of devoted followers.
If, for many, English football was invented in 1992 when the Premier League started, then the birth of Philippine football can be dated back to 2010. And instead of a satellite company coming in and changing the rules, an unknown Scotsman came in and put the game on the map.
Simon McMenemy was appointed national team coach. Previously he had been coaching no-league in England and that had, surprisingly, been a useful introduction to the Pinoy game as he came across a couple of players who were half Filipino including Rob Gier, a familiar face in south eastern non-league circles.
Once in Manila, McMenemy tapped into the Pinoy diaspora as he put together a team that would surprise everyone by reaching the semi finals of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup. While the cup run did wonders for the country there was very little in place to make sure Filipino football would improve. There was little in the way of domestic infrastructure, a Filipino Premier League in 2008 was over in less time than it took for a Chinchilla to be impregnated, go into labour and give birth.
In 2010 a Manila centric United Football League was introduced with 16 teams spread across two divisions. When this attempt at a national league ended in 2016, 20 different teams had competed with just three, Green Archers, Kaya and Loyola Meralco Sparks, being there from start to finish. Clubs came and went as owners looked at the game, fancied the perceived glamour and soon folded when they found out the bling cost money.
And there was plenty of bling. Local players boasting Filipino mixed blood were in high demand for their supposed good looks and were able to attract high salaries, never sustainable given the lack of action at the turnstile. The Younghusband brothers for example, James and Phil, were born in Surrey and were attached to Chelsea before doing t he rounds in non-league and then becoming household names in the Philippines. One was linked with a big money move to Indonesia but he preferred the security, and familiarity of football in his mother's country rather than taking a plunge overseas.
A new league was introduced in 2017, the Philippine Football League, n the hope of learning a thing or two from the Indian Super League. Eight teams signed up for the first season and each was allowed to recruit four foreign players. Plus they had the pick of the now locally based Tisoy and the all commanded high salaries.
With little in the way of supporters, clubs were heavily reliant on their owners and whatever sponsorship deals could be signed. The AFC seemed to love the Philippines for in 2018 Ceres-Negros, owned by a bus company, entered the AFC Champions League having won the first PFL.
Ceres-Negros went on to win the PFL in 2018 and 2019 and in early 2020 they defeated Shan United and Thai Port in he Preliminary Rounds of the AFC Champions League, setting up a tough trip to Japan to face Tokyo FC. Win that and they would have been playing against Ulsan Hyundai, Shanghai Shenhua and Perth Glory, a quite remarkable contrast to more mundane league fare which brought them up against the infinitely less glamourous Azkals Development Team.
Sadly for Ceres-Negros and the PFL cracks were widening. The coronavirus pandemic brutally highlighted the lack of support the PFL had, both financial and on the terraces. 90 minutes from a place in the AFC Champions League group stage in January, a few months later the owners of the bus company pulled the plug on Ceres-Negros and a new club grew in its ashes, the bizarrely named United City Football Club. Instead of being withdrawn from the AFC Cup, which Ceres-Negros entered by default after losing in Japan, United City now face the prospect of lining up against Bali United, Svay Rieng and Than Quang Ninh, continuing where Ceres-Negros left off. It's almost like the AFC is doing more to back Filipino football than the Philippines is.
Not content with the most successful team calling it a day there have been more shenanigans in the Philippines as confusion surrounds the fate of Global FC. There is another story. Global FC have competed in the AFC Cup on three occasions and even beat Tampines Rovers in the Champions League preliminary round in 2017. They also entered the 'open-to-all' Singapore Cup in five consecutive seasons, losing to Albirex Niigata in the 2017 final. Today it has been reported the new owners say they are no longer the new owners and have nothing whatsoever to do with the club or the salary arrears!
Last year, there were seven teams in the PFL. As it stands there are six with confusion over the fate of Global. As leagues go it was always built on sand and the performances of Cere-Negros and Global around Asia in no way reflect the strength of the domestic league. Rich owners with deep pockets had budgets which allowed them to hoover up the best players but little else beyond that. Half-heartedly I did propose on Twitter recently the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei get together and come up with a kind of ASEAN Mini League. Could a league featuring say for example Tampines Rovers, Hougang United, Lion City Sailors, DPMM, United City and Global be a viable option for the Philippines and Singapore, both of which have stagnant domestic scene?
Certainly, for the Philippines it can't afford to keep subsidizing highly paid players with little in the way of finances coming in through the gate. Without a strong league it home it is unlikely teams will be able to build on their impressive efforts in Asian club competitions.
Kortrijk's Malaysian Owner Basks In Luqman Signing
It is of course excellent news when any player from the region signs a country with a team in a European league. What Indonesian doesn't feel a sense of pride when they see Egy Maulana lining up for his Polish side Lechia Gdansk? But how many of the overseas moves are earned on merit and and how many are initiated by ASEAN club owners. A look at the Wikipedia profile of Syamsir Alam shows here is a major talent who learnt his trade in Uruguay before having spells with CS Vise in Belgium and DC United in the US. Sadly for Syamsir it wasn't his ability which earned such high profile moves, rather a connection with an Indonesian business group which had interests there. He is still only 28 but no longer plays football...
It is difficult enough for South East Asian players to earn work permits in Europe, especially young players though Belgium does seem to be a slightly easier option as we saw when the Bakries were involved with CS Vise. They ensured a steady supply of young Indonesian talent were on the books of that little known club though they weren't able to repeat that headline heavy conveyor belt with Brisbane Roar.
Club owners like to be seen. They see owning a football club as a way of raising their profile domestically. Anyone remember when White Skin Cream Lady became a 'special advisor' to Kelantan? Or the ubiquitous sight of people in suits and quasi uniforms in dug outs or pushing their way to the front when a trophy is won. Yep, a certain type of club owner is a Trumpian narcist with little interest in football.
The same can be said of these rich businessmen when they get involved with clubs overseas. Manchester City's brief dalliance with Taksin Shinawatra gave Teerasil Dangda and a couple of his pals the chance to burnish their Wiki pages without ever seriously being in with a chance of playing in England full time. But think of the headlines Taksin earned in the Thai language media as he boasted about how he was helping Thai football with his fool's errand.
Vincent Tan is another club owner who likes to project an image of himself. His move to switch Cardiff City's colours from the traditional blue to red was a monumental blunder which saw fans protesting against his ownership of the club; imagine the outcry if an English guy bought Selangor and tried to change the colours and crest! Then magnify that a thousand fold. In 2013, at the height of his unpopularity, an article described him as the worst club owner in sport!
To be fair to Tan, he rode out the storm and seems to have learned the lessons from it. Or has he? He also owns Belgian club KVV Kortrijk and they are in the news now having signed prodigy Luqman Hakim Shamsudin and in interviews he is making it clear how important the role he played was in signing the youngster.
Putting the player's talent aside, European clubs aren't used to being told who to sign by their owner. It is accepted club chairmen put in place an infrastucture for the finding and signing of players and not rely on the boss to randomly throw a name in the hat just so he can garner some positive headlines back home.
''It was a big decision by the club, to give him a five-year contract. The management thought that he is too young, but as the owner I said 'we'll give him a chance.' When they are young they can run faster than the older players, and they have a higher value.
"And it helps that Luqman has been listed as one of the best young footballers in the world and that he's recognised," says the tycoon, referring to The Guardian and Goal's top youth footballers lists that the 18-year old has been named on.
"I told the club that they must let him play instead of simply benching him. He needs to prove to the coaches that he's good enough to play, even only as a substitution, even just for 10, 15 minutes. Let's see if the manager agrees with me. Sometimes a club owner can't simply tell the manager what he doesn't want to do.
"As the owner, I decided to give an opportunity to another Malaysian. And the club need to train him and give him opportunities. Surely they can give him a chance when the owner is Malaysian himself? They'd better play him, or not we'll just be paying him 'gaji buta' (Bahasa Melayu for getting a salary despite not doing any work)!" explained Vincent.
Before heading to Belgium, Luqman has been treated to a few days at Vincent Tan's island resort to help be ''single-minded about what he intends to achieve with his new team.''
Tan also talked about the profit his Belgian team could make if they sell the player, a profit Selangor could even share in. But, just to show he's all heart, Tan adds ''However, at the end of the day, he has been signed because I believe that he can succeed. I'm not doing it just for show, it's a five-year contract after all. I am serious'...What's more important is Luqman will be bringing the Malaysian brand and you are our hope, so go there, do the best you can and don't be naughty." Nice bit of patronising paternalism thrown in for good measure...
Were any other European clubs interested in signing Luqman? Were JDT in the race? Do clubs really look at websites and newspapers to see which players to go for? From reading the reports it seems the signing of Luqman is a feather in the cap for the club owner. Only time will tell if it works out so well for the player...
Once upon a time any new football club called itself United. Pattaya United. Muang Thong United. Sulut United. Felda United. Quite why clubs would go down this Anglicized naming route was beyond me. I mean, they couldn't all be aping Manchester United, could they?
More recently we have seen new clubs calling themselves City and again you wonder what the motivation could be? I mean, if you want to copy English names where are the Wanderers, Athletics or Wednesdays?
But no, ever since the oil dollars started gushing into East Manchester, and they have been lifting trophies for fun, City has become THE suffix to add to a football club.
When Pattaya United were bought out and relocated to Samut Prakan last year, they became known as Samut Prakan City.
In Malaysia when it was decided, finally, to put MISC-MIFA out of their misery they were rebranded as PJ City. In fact it wasn't long before the club were being linked with a takeover by the City Group, something that was soon shown up for what it was, a fantasy.
PJ City did adopt Manchester City's sky blue colours and even added the red rose of Lancashire to their club badge before being threatened with legal action.
South of the Causeway, when it was decided to erase Home United from the history books, the new license owner went with the name Lion City Sailors. Singapore of course is often known as Lion City and indeed what is Singapore if not an Anglicized version of the Sanskrit for Lion City so in a way this example could be described as tapping into local history.
The Philippines doesn't have much of a football tradition and their most successful clubs in recent years, Ceres Negros, were owned by a bus company. With Covid 19 however the transport company withdrew from football and new owners rebranded the club United City Football Club, a moniker which defies any football logic.
Till now, Indonesia has stayed aloof from the City-fication of new clubs although Sulut United, an acronym of Sulawesi Utara, do play in sky blue and their club crest is somewhat familiar.
It's not often I have anything good to say about the short-lived Indonesia Premier League from 2011 but one they did do in part was try to adopt names that had some meaning for their region. Hence we had Minangkabau, the team than famously though they could sign Dennis Bergkamp, Cendrawasih, Bali De Wata and Batavia Union among others.
And shouldn't that be the point? Rather than trying to hang on to the coat tails of a successful club thousands of miles away shouldn't these new-ish clubs being doing more to appeal to the people who live in their backyard?
The other side to the story is familiarity. For good or bad the top five clubs in England are massively popular in South East Asia, their branding easily identifiable. More so than than local clubs. Perhaps, in a bit to attract new supporters, clubs feel the best way to do this is to tap into that familiarity.
Maybe. Look at Buriram United and Muang Thong United. Then look at Johor Darul Ta'zim who eschewed English naming etiquette and have done all right for themselves.
I guess if I was ever in the position to spunk heaps of money on a football club I would be looking to develop a name that tapped into local traditions but I also realise I am just a football traditionalist with a romantic interpretation of someone else's past and my interpretation may not be everyone's.
As is so often the case I have argued myself out of the original premise of a post. I started out wanting to mock, ever so gently, the recent craze of clubs adding City to their name but end up accepting there is a certain logic to
Like yesterday's post, at the end of the day it comes down to management and what they have in way of a vision for their club. Malaysian football is the winner if PJ City can be built into a powerhouse boasting 10,000 fans every home game and giving JDT a run for their Ringgit and the same goes for Samut Prakan City, Lion City Casuals and United City. I have been crying out for new money in local football and now it's here it does seem petty to get up het up about club branding.
And anyway, anything is an improvement on football clubs named after roads, government departments or the stock market!
There are many things I loathe about modern football. The apathy shown to fans when it comes to scheduling games for one. The cavalier approach to replica shirts. That oligarchs and any rich twat is welcome to own a club with no responsibility being shown by the authorities to a club's history or traditions. Over zealous stewarding. The choreographed atmosphere clubs want to install in grounds. The stifling of a natural fan-generated atmosphere in order to milk the corporates. The corporates. the dumbing down of commentary, punditry and football analysis. Ex pros stealing a living as pundits based purely on their media mates rather than any ability to offer any interesting input.
The Against Modern Football slogan has spread around Europe and like so many trends has been picked up by fans in South East Asia but may I respectfully suggest if there is one region that would benefit from modern football then it is ASEAN.
Facilities inside most stadiums are non-existent. Ticketing arrangements ae cumbersome. Security personnel aren't well trained. Clubs continue to be mismanaged. Players still go without salaries. In short football clubs need to be run professionally by professional people and not by petty potentates or their cap-doffing appointees.
It's in stricken times like these that a club or its organisation's professionalism becomes evident. Take for example the case of Melaka United's Thai import Naruphon Putusorn. Writing in The Star, T Avineshwaran says that the defender has told the club he wants out after only being paid in February and 25% of his March salary. Naruphon told the club last month he wants out and has also written to FIFA about his unpaid salary.
“I was put in a position and situation that affected my personal finances, my mental and emotional health. It had also put a strain on my pregnant wife and our relationship, ” said the former Buriram United and Suphanburi player.
“My lawyer reached out to find a solution and sent an official letter but there was no response. Continuous promises were made but never fulfilled. So I had to make a decision for the happiness and well-being of my family.”
Yes, we all know what unprecedented times we live in, yada yada. But what seems to be key here is the lack of response, the broken promises. Communication is key at all times but especially so now and a professional organisation would be going out of its way to ensure its employees are kept in the loop, even if there is nothing really to report. Saving face is more important than people's livelihoods?
Then we have Kedah. What a team they had, Marlon Alex James et all dominating the local game for a few glorious years but nothing lasts for ever. Nothing it seems was done to ensure the club could go on being successful and now they are another club that is unable to pay its players. And let's not talk about Kelantan.
The FAM have responded by saying the privatization and licensing procedures they are putting in place will ''install some responsibility among owners on the importance of administration and financial management.''
Although it may seem like I am picking on Malaysia here I really am not. Indonesia? Don't get me started there! Singapore? Where some clubs have taken to looking for players on job-hunting websites?
While South East Asian teams don't need to go down the laissez-faire approach adopted in England they do at least need to be dragged into the 1990s and Johor Darul Ta'zim are leading the way on many levels. In an interesting piece in the NST the crown prince says running a professional football club isn't just about money.
"Pahang had a lot of money, so did Kedah and Selangor but how come they don't even have one training facility? Not even one training ground. How come they don't even own their own stadium until today?
"How come there was barely a plan in terms of gaining income or privatising or to have commercial success for the club?
"I feel at the end of the day, money can get you somewhere but you must have a proper plan to identify, to implement what you want to achieve.
The crown prince is 100% spot on. Facilities. Plan. Commercial success. So many teams don't have a plan beyond breakfast. I've not been to the new ground but I can see from my visits to Larkin Stadium to see both Johor FA and JDT the difference a professional organisation can make.
A classic example of the hand to mouth existence by which many clubs operate is seen in Persitara in Indonesia. Several years ago they had an away game in Jayapura against Persipura. A daunting trip at the best of times, a seven hour direct flight, longer if you transit. Persitara set off with the manager loudly proclaiming in the press the team had no money and he was asking for friends to pay for the plane tickets! The team got as far as Makassar and again the manager had the begging bowl out to pay for the rest of the journey! How can a professional football club operate like that?
So I'm sorry but football in South East Asia does need to embrace 'modern football'. Johor Darul Ta'zim and Buriram United are leading the way but then they can afford to as I wrote a few years ago. Some clubs have coped reasonably well with the crisis even if it only means they are communicating with players but the rest are struggling. In Indonesia clubs like Bali United, Persib, Persebaya, Persija and Arema have the potential to be regional behemoths but have so far shown little appetite for investing in the infrastructure like we have seen in Malaysia and Thailand.
Liga Indonesia Baru have announced Liga 2 will start in October. The season initially began back in March but was postponed after a single round of matches were played. When the action returns the division will bear little resemblance to those heady days pre-pandemic.
Four groups of six teams will replace the two divisions of twelve for a start which is a pretty big change. Teams will play each other just once before the top two go through to the next round which will feature two groups of four. The top two teams from there will go on to the semi finals and I'm sure you can work out the rest.
As with Liga 1 there is no plan to have fans present at the games. Given the hand to mouth way many clubs are run I would not be surprised if some teams fall by the wayside.
As a reminder, these are the original teams:
Badak Lampung, Cilegon United, Kalteng Putra, Hizbul Watham, Martapura, Mitra Kukar, Muba BaBel United, Persekat, Perserang, Persewar, Persiba, Persijap, Persis, PSBS, PSCS, PSIM, PSKC, PSMS, PSPS, Putra Sinar Giri, Semen Padang, Sriwjaya, Sulut United, Tiga Naga
Venues and dates will no doubt be announced later.
I do enjoy Liga 2 and this season does have a tasty mix of traditional clubs like Persis, Persijap (supporters pictured below celebrating winning Liga 3), PSIM and PSMS as well as a new breed of club like Muba BaBel United, Putra Sinar Giri and Tiga Naga.
You see the rabbit holes football can take you down? After being triggered to look at some PSMS players of yore I learn of a merger that went down in March and what looks like serious investment in a new club in South Sumatra.
It can be difficult keeping track of the mergers and changes of ownership in Indonesian football when you're living there and following it every day. But when you're thousands of miles away? No chance.
First, for me as much as anything, some background. Back in 2010 Aceh United were formed to play in the Liga Premier Indonesia. Remember that? They lasted half a season and life carried on with Persiraja the main team in Banda Aceh.
They kind of fell off the radar after that short lived campaign before returning to Liga 3 in 2017. It's worth pointing out many clubs are little more than licenses. Owners come and go and depending on the owner a club's fortunes ebb and flow. So after 2011 Aceh United would have existed as little more than a sheet of paper tucked away in a draw somewhere.
Aceh United were promoted to Liga 2 at the end of their first season back and did well enough to reach the play offs though they finished bottom of their group.
Established in Liga 2, Aceh United then went and merged with PS Timah BaBel, previously known as PS Bangka and they were based in Pangkal Pinang. The new team was known as BaBel United (an acronym of Bangka Belitung islands) and were skippered by Agus Indra Kurniawan who previously had a lengthy spell with Persija.
BaBel United finished the 2019 season comfortably in mid table but were to be soon on the move again. Dodi Reza Alex Noerdin, who had previously been involved with Sriwijaya, set up Musi Banyuasi and merged them with BaBel United to form Musa Banyuasi United or, for the sake of brevity, Muba BaBel United.
Former international striker Bambang Nurdiansyah was brought in to coach the team and money was spent to recruit big name players like Agus Indra Kurniawan, Bobby Satria (pictured in action for Persikabo), Ichsan Kurniawan and Airlangga Sucipto. The new team started the season well, defeating newly promoted Persekat 3-0 in their opening game to go top of the table, and since the pandemic brought the campaign to a halt, they remain league leaders ahead of the season restarting in October.
Will any fans of Aceh United or PS Timah feel any affinity with the new club? Unlikely. Football fans are used to seeing clubs come and go. And as for the town of Banyausi there used to be another team there called PS Banyuasi which has recently started training under new coach Mahyadi Panggabean. How does that work? Do PS Banyuasi fans start following Muba BaBel United or is there a new breed of supporter wearing their colours?
Way back when, in the distant dawn of time long before there was any social media PSMS had a good team. In 2006, my first season watching Indonesian football, they reached the Copa Indonesia semi finals, defeating Liga Indonesia champions Persik along the way. I remember being quite struck by their toothpaste green and white shirts as well as the fact some of their players names where quite easy to remember; a remarkable achievement for someone struggling with the multi-syllable constructions.
Boy Jati Asmara and Markus Horison were particularly bule friendly names of course. But three other names stuck out and remained with me over the years, names that for me will always be synonymous with Medan and North Sumatra.
So it was, at some ungodly hour while I was checking on my son's online studies the name Mahyadi Panggabean released a flood of long-forgotten memories. I was flicking through a football website and saw he had been appointed coach of Liga 3 side PS Banyuasin. The left sided player was a mainstay of the PSMS side for six years up until 2008, a feat that is surely worthy of recognition in the short term world of Indonesian football, before upping sticks and heading to Persik (twice), Sriwijaya (where he won the Inter-Island Cup twice, the Super League and the Community Shield), Persela and Gresik United.
Seeing Mahyadi still actively involved in the game I went in search of his two team mates who made up, in my mind at least, the Three Batak.
Legimin Raharjo, a midfielder, left PSMS at the same time as Mahyadi, following his mate to Persik and settled a while in East Java where he also played for Arema and Gresik United. After treading water at Pelita Bandung Raya, Legimin returned to his first love in 2015 and seems to have been there ever since. I say seems to. He did go to PS TNI but then given the murky cross-ownership that happens so often they were all but PSMS anyway.
The third of the swashbuckling trio was Saktiawan Sinaga. The bustling forward made 100 appearances for PSMS before joining his two mates moving to Persik in 2008. PSMS had made the cut to the revamped Indonesia Super League by finishing runners up in 2007 but the cash was drying up, they were forced to play some home games in Bandung and in 2008 they were relegated. If the Macan Putih were hoping the Three Batak would help inspire the same success they had enjoyed with the Three Amigos (Cristian Gonzales, Danilo Fernando and Ronald Fagundez) they were to be sadly disappointed as Jacksen F Thiago's imperious Persipura dominated the league.
Persik finished a credible fourth and Sinaga finished the campaign top scorer in the league but they were an eyewatering 25 points behind the champions and the team broke up.
Saktiawan became a footballing nomad, criss-crossing Indonesia from Semen Padang, Mitra Kukar, Perseru, PSS, Pusamania and Persiwa before ending up with Tiga Naga in Liga 2 where he remains as a player.
The years since the Three Batak left have not been kind to PSMS. They returned to the top flight in 2018 and signalled their intentions by appointing former Persib coach Djadjang Nurdjaman and bringing back Legimin in a bid to capture past glories but the team struggled all season and finished bottom.
I can't claim to be a PSMS fan but I do wonder if, in their heart of hearts, supporters long for the day the Three Batak return to Medan and lead in some capacity and lead the club to a glory that has been absent for so long in North Sumatra!