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Thursday, September 14, 2017

 

Indonesian Football Limps Into The 1990s

Football clubs need money. All those players need paying and in Indonesia plane tickets need to be reserved and hotels booked. The money needs to come from somewhere but for too long too many clubs have lived in denial. Brought up on a culture of handouts from local government clubs have muddled along, often under the tutelage of local government appointees who may or may not be big football fans. A club's success or otherwise even now often depends on the flights and fancies of local power brokers with their own agendas.

When I first started following Indonesian football funds would come from local governments and sponsorship came from tobacco firms or state owned enterprises. The first two are now, officially at least, closed as sources of revenue meaning clubs are now being forced to enter the market place in search of sponsors and all too often they lack the staff or the expertise to negotiate these commercial waters. Fortunately some companies do recognise the value, and the reach, of football and they have taken to approaching the clubs themselves offering to get involved at some level in return for prominent exposure. Whether the club is getting the market value in return remains open for debate.

TV revenue and sponsorship provide a huge chunk of a club's day to day costs like in many countries. Matchday revenue doesn't. Ticket prices are kept low because many of the supporters come from less well off backgrounds and as they provide the passion and the spectacle on the terraces no football club is willing to price their lifeblood out of the game (unlike in England for example).

Merchandising is an essential part of a football club's brand but it is an area they have been unwilling to exploit until recent years. Fans love to identify, or been seen to identify, with their favourite team and of course replica shirts are one of the most popular ways of doing this. Bizarrely it is only in recent years that we have seen clubs recognise the potential and start to market replica shirts to their support base. When I used to ask why I was told fans wouldn't pay for the original, they would prefer to buy the cheaper knock offs widely available outside stadiums on any given match day suggesting a sweeping generalisation of their fans not all would appreciate.

Football's suspicion of the entrepreneurial DNA runs deep. With the ASEAN Football Federation Cup last year when Indonesia reached the final it was difficult to find national team shirts in specialist stores for example. The manufacturers it seemed didn't trust the market to buy enough shirts to make mass production worth their while. The short term, penny pinching mindset flows down the football pyramid in a manner that would have proponents of trickle down economics fuming at the inverse of their thinking. So many clubs lack the staff or resources to build a fully functioning merchandising department; in effect Indonesian football clubs operate season to season. A coach is appointed by whoever is on this year's management committee and the appointed man is told his budget for the season and told to cut his cloth accordingly. Once the season ends the management types will essentially go into football hibernation, back to their day jobs, only to reemerge in time for the new season. There is no planning ahead, there is no club infrastructure to speak of that keeps things ticking over season to season. Hell, we see this at the PSSI whenever a new guy takes over and he has to bring his people in who need to learn the job as they go.

For an outsider like me this is nuts. How the hell can clubs as massive as Persebaya, Arema, Persib and Persija operate on such a hand to mouth existence? No wonder they are incapable of mounting a sustained bid for success not just in Indonesia but abroad.

The only constant in Indonesian football are the fans and it is the fans who have been quick to fill the vacuum caused by club's lack of know how. If you want to know what is happening at a club you don't go to their club's official media. Too often they don't have a dedicated press officer so any news that is released must wait for someone with a few moments to spare and that someone could be on the coaching staff or a relative of a high ranking official. But with some supporters hanging round the club 24/7 websites, blogs and social media accounts grew up to fill the void. They were on the ground and they were the ones to release the latest news real time along with videos, interviews or direct quotes.

Likewise with merchandising. With the clubs unable to get products out to the fan base supporters took up the slack and some have become so successful they have developed their own ranges of branded clothing or terrace wear. Those who say business has no place in football are behind the times; business has always been there in the form of cottage industries providing supporters with the scarves and t shirts they crave as well as employing their mates and making a few bob. In fact, ahem, my book Sepakbola - The Indonesian Way Of Life looks at some cottage industries in greater detail.

Now though, and slowly, things are changing and some clubs are dipping their pinkies in the waters of commercialisation. Persib led the way and Persebaya are taking massive strides as they emerge from years of darkness under new ownership which knows a thing or two about making money. And now, finally, Persija have their own shop. Actually it seems to be run by the fans but the club are providing a few bits and pieces, including 100 shirts (!) and will look at adding more stores if this one is a success.

Persija are the biggest club in the capital of Indonesia and they are giving a shop 100 shirts to sell! A club that average 28,000 at their home games. West Ham United are the fourth largest club in London and they have three large stores, each in areas that attract large numbers of visitors every day. What is good though is that Persija are working with the supporters to make merchandising available. It is a start. Other clubs haven't even go this far yet. 

Indonesian football is changing. New clubs with new money have usurped the old guard on the field while off it some clubs are embracing a form of professionalism we haven't seen before. Club merchandise is another step forward. There are still plenty of elephants in the room, much to complain about and much that holds back the game, but change is coming from within, at a glacial place perhaps but still change that could, repeat could, enable the brave to go toe to toe not just with the best in Indonesia but also overseas.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

 

Being Thai is Not Enough To Challenge Asia's Best

That Thailand have been the preeminent force in South East Asian football for the best part of two decades is indisputable. Since 1996 they have won the ASEAN Football Federation Cup five times and triumphed in the SEA Games in 11 out of 13 competitions since 1993. When it comes to regional bagging rights the War Elephants fear no foe. 

Ever since the days of the dream team at the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994 when the likes of Zico and Tawan first made their impact on the region the Thais have been a conveyor belt of talent with players like Datsakorn, Theerathep, Kawin, Theerathon, Teerasil and Chanathip almost effortlessly making headlines around the region. The English football media like to croon about the likes of Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard; how would they react to almost 20 years of top players following one after another like we have seen in Thailand?

Sadly for the Thais being such big fish in a small puddle does not translate into success beyond the borders of ASEAN. Yes, they were able to escape their World Cup 2018 qualifying group along with Iraq but they received some help along the way with Indonesia being kicked out and Chinese Taipei being so hapless. Against strong opposition, Iraq, they could only draw both times. But enough was done against their rivals, also including Vietnam, they finished top of the group and guaranteed themselves a pop against some of Asia's real big boys.

Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq (again), Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Not an easy group for the best team in ASEAN, in fact not an easy group for many nations around the world and so it was to prove with the Thais picking up just two points, from draws against Australia and UAE, and losing the rest including heavy defeats away to Iraq and Japan. Eight defeats from their 10 Round Three games, six goals scored. When Thailand escaped the comforts and familiarity of their ASEAN puddle and swam with the big fish they became mere morsels for the true Asian predators.

The Thais weren't competing alongside the continental powerhouses, they were cannon fodder. Sad to say but for all the talent the nation has produced, and looks likely to continue to produce Thailand are no nearer becoming one of the elite football countries in Asia.

So what is holding them back? Their advantages over their ASEAN rivals are clear to see. Professionalism, diet, upper body strength and discipline set them apart from their corner cutting neighbours. There is also an element of consistency in player selection, something sadly lacking in Indonesia for example, for the national team and a strength in depth others can only drool over. The FA there regularly play host to international sides beyond the narrow parameters of ASEAN with the Kings Cup, featuring Belarus and North Korea, something their rivals do only sporadically.

But they are not serious contenders to go into the draw for the World Cup nor the AFC Asian Cup and don't appear to be for some time to come.

I can't help think the domestic league culture
is partly to blame. Take away Buriram United and Muang Thong United with their deep pockets and you are left with a handful of clubs who can/could challenge for honours, and I'm including Bangkok Glass, Bangkok United in this category but the bulk of the teams in the top flight are there to make up the numbers and yo yo between the top two divisions. Leaders Buriram are 13 points clear of fourth place Chiang Rai United and average more than two goals a game. Many club owners lack the resources, or the will, to fully invest in their club and this is to the detriment of the league as a whole and the national team by extension.

It is all well and good the Thais opening their doors to players from the ASEAN region, a project that has yet to take off and anyway the benefits of playing for a team like Navy or Port are lost on me from a developmental point of view, but perhaps what is needed is for more players to follow in the footsteps of Chanathip and head overseas. There is little doubt the Thai Messi, what an awful nickname, will benefit from his stint with Consadole Sapparo in the way the likes of Zico, Tawan and Datsakorn did in previous years, but there needs to be more taking the plunge to learn a new culture, escape their comfort zone.

Money no doubt is one reason why players are loathe to pack their bags of course. Zico et all played in a league that was more a collection of letters, SET, BBC, KTB, RTP etc, with little passion and little money available. Football is a vastly different game than what it was a generation back. But for Thai football to go from being whipping boys to the region's powerhouses to competing on a level playing field it needs some of the current generation to forsake some khao pad gai and som tam for the good of the country.

And not just the players. When Zico was replaced as coach of the national team he spurned offers work overseas for mid table life at Port. A missed opportunity there. Where 20 years ago he was a trendsetter, a beacon for younger players following in his wake, now he succumbed to familiarity and banality by taking over a middling side with little prospect of honours beyond a good cup run. 

The notion of being Thai, khwam pen Thai, which children are taught at school makes for a colourful tourist experience but it is limiting when it comes to moulding players and coaches to compete at the highest level. 



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

 

Two Sides Of Indonesian Football Fans

Indonesian football fans have been quick to show their support for the Rohingya and Palestinian people (PSS fans pictured below) in recent weeks, displays which have shown supporters in a positive light for a change.

However while they have been praised for showing unity with those suffering overseas, elements have still managed to show the ugly side is alive and kicking and their empathy for those in foreign lands doesn't extend to rivals closer to home.

Last weekend saw Madura United defeat Arema 2-0 in an East Java derby played in Pamekasan. However the three points, which ended a winless run of four games, were marred by the actions of a minority who attacked the Arema team bus, smashing windows in barrage of rocks and stones. 


Credit to the Madura United club president Achsanal Qosasi who has come out and condemned the actions of the supporters involved saying that although Madura United won the game 'we lost in politeness'. 


At the recent Indonesia v Fiji friendly a supporter, Catur Julianto, died after a flare that was set off by supporters hit him on the side of the head despite flares being banned from stadiums across the country. 

Indonesian football is big on beauty and the beast. One of the finest sights in South East Asia is to see a packed, heaving terrace moving, swaying, singing as one but at the same time there is a lingering threat of violence that can kick off if there is no one to nip it in the bud.

Over the years I have seen cases where fans have policed themselves in a mature manner and not respond to downright provocation. At the same time I have seen fans start to kick off then, without any meaningful crowd control steps being implemented, more and more feel brave about the lack of repercussions and the safety of the mob and want to get involved. 

Of the hundreds of games I have seen across the country the messages of support have outnumbered the violence by a large factor but I am not looking at the game with rose tinted glasses. There are issues of security at games and there are issues over fans all to quick to get involved. Football, supporters and security need to work together to ensure we see more of the former and zero of the latter, just don't hold your breath.


 

Ilham Udin Strikes Late To Take Bhayangkara Top

Persela v Perseru 1-0 (Samsul Arif) 3,960

It comes to something when Persela are recording such a low attendance but perhaps there can be some sympathy for the long suffering support who had just witnessed five straight losses. And, no disrespect, Perseru aren't the most attractive of opponents! Samsul's seventh of the season just shy of the hour mark was enough to secure the points and send the small crowd home happy against the Papuans who remained in the bottom three and winless on their travels.

Mitra Kukar v Persija 1-2 (Marclei Santos; Bruno Lopes, Ramdani Lestalahu) 1,341

Persija suffered the ignominy of losing their new striker, Reinaldo (three goals in four games) before going down to a penalty just before half time but they still managed a spirited fightback in the second half with Lopes levelling just after half time with his eighth of the season and Ramdani making it five games unbeaten for the Macan Kemayoran.

Persib v Semen Padang 2-2 (Raphael Maitimo, Ezechiel N'Douassel; Vendry Mofu 2) 21,617

Semen Padang led twice at Si Jalak Harupat as they looked to end a four game winless streak but each time they were pegged back by a determined Persib side. Maitimo continued his hit streak in front of goal in injury time of the first half with his sixth goal in six games and though Mofu scored his second of the game and eighth of the season on 56 minutes it was left to Chadian import N'Douassel to save the home side's blushes with two minutes on the clock as he scored his third goal since arriving at the club in the transfer window.

Persiba v Gresik United 3-0 (Anmar Al Mubaraki, Srdan Lopcic, Hendri Satriadi) 10,021

Another defeat for hapless Gresik United, their seventh on the spin and their fifth without getting on the scoresheet, but this was all about Persiba. Playing at their brand spanking new Batakan Stadium, it was party time for the Honey Bears in front of their second largest crowd of the season. Stadium buffs, this is the third stadium Persiba have used as a home ground this season.

Bhayangkara v Persipura 2-1 (Ilham Udin 2; Ian Lousi Kabes) 3,250

How many times have I written about Ilham Udin this season? Good strikers score match changing goals and Ilham is certainly doing that. Having given his side the lead with 13 minutes remaining Persipura clawed their way back into the game with Kabes equalising with just two minutes left. With the game heading for a draw and many of us groaning, here we go again Persipura(!), up pops Ilham again three minutes into injury time to earn full points for Bhayangkara and see them end Week 23 top of the table.

PSM v PS TNI 4-1 (Pavel Puryshkin, Ferdinand Sinaga 2, Hamka Hamzah; Wawan Febrianto) 14,875

PSM have not been the formidable force they were earlier in the season but this convincing win keeps them in touch with the leaders as well as improving their goal difference. One time Indonesian international Ferdinand hit a brace, making it four in the last three, as well as laying on one for new signing Puryshkin. As for PS TNI. They are a pale shadow of the team that started the season so well with just one point from their last six games. The corps d'esprit that was so evident in the early days of the campaign has gone AWOL!

Barito Putera v Sriwijaya 2-0 (Hansamu Yama Pranata, Douglas Packer) 3,432

No surprises in this mid table clash. Yep, seeing Sriwijaya floundering in mid table nothingness has ceased to surprise

Madura United v Arema 2-0 (Slamet Nurchayo 2) 8,327

While the likes of Peter Odemwingie and Greg Nwokolo have attracted the headline writers in Madura's thrilling season to date Slamet Nurcahyo has been happy to play second fiddle if you like. No one at the club though underestimates this silky midfielder whose vision and technique allows the better known players to shine. His brace ended a four game winless streak for the one time title challengers and allowed him his moment in the spotlight his performances all season have warranted.

Borneo v Bali United 0-0 7,695

Freescoring Bali United were held by a tenacious Borneo in Samarinda. Since losing at home to Sriwijaya a month ago Borneo have gone five games unbeaten, conceding two goals in that time; Jose Mourinho would be proud!

1 - Bhayangkara 23 15 1 7 40-26 46
2 - Bali United 23 14 3 6 52-26 45
3 - PSM 23 12 6 5 37-25 42
4 - Persipura 23 12 6 5 42-25 42

25 - Sylvano Comvalius (Bali United)
15 - Marclei Santos (Mitra Kukar)
13 - Peter Odemwingie (Madura United)
12 - Reinaldo Costa (PSM 9, Persija 3), Alberto Goncalves (Sriwijaya)

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