Thursday, November 17, 2011

PSSI's chickens come home to roost

My unabridged commentary piece on Indonesia's World Cup qualifier with Iran and all the nonsense surrounding it. The piece itself got kicked around a bit, what with the sports front being redesigned twice tonight. Enjoy!


Indonesian Football Association officials watching Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Iran must have been proud.

After all, everything on display at Gelora Bung Karno was the culmination of their five months in charge of the country’s favorite sport.

The half-fit players, the nearly empty stands, the choppy pitch at the national stadium — all that and more is the legacy of chairman Djohar Arifin Husin and the new leadership at the association known as the PSSI. All the hand-waving and attempts to deflect blame that will inevitably follow should not obscure the fact that those in charge of Indonesian football have not put the country in position to succeed.

It should come as no surprise that the drumbeat to replace Wim Rijsbergen as coach of the senior national team is already underway. Like his predecessor Alfred Riedl, the Dutchman ruffled feathers when he made the apparent mistake of calling attention to the miasma of indiscipline, arrogance and entitlement surrounding the national team and the PSSI.

Rijsbergen has since moderated his tone, but his point remains the same. While he has not criticized his players in public, he has walked up to that line, informing the press on multiple occasions of the stories he could tell but not elaborating in the interest of “protecting the players.”

What he refuses to say speaks just as loudly, though.

“If there is no discipline outside the field, it’s impossible to be disciplined on the field.” “There must be a lot of talent in a country with 240 million people that is willing to be 100 percent professional.”

Those are not the words of a manager who feels he can rely on his players to show up — on time and sober — when called up to the national team.

To the PSSI, though, what outside observers see as legitimate gripes are just another example of a mouthy bule. Reports have emerged that Djohar will consider Rijsbergen’s position after the Southeast Asian Games, and rest assured that succession plans are already in place.

While the names at the PSSI may have changed, the organization itself is still a political beast and it is not difficult to pick out the favorite son. After the Indonesian Super League finished in June, the Under-23 team coached by Rahmad Darmawan played 16 friendlies ahead of the Games, a youth competition in an event unknown outside this region.

The senior team, which was trying to qualify for the World Cup — the pinnacle of football — played just three times. One of those was against the U-23 team, while the other two needed PSSI and government officials to call in favors to line up friendlies against Palestine and Jordan.

Somewhere along the way, the country that once boasted of plans to host the World Cup decided trying to qualify for the tournament was just too much of a hassle.

That Rahmad is in line to succeed Rijsbergen is beyond doubt. The question is how Djohar and his cronies will justify the switch. Lack of success? Not bringing new talent into the team? Unless the Dutchman’s brief includes uniting the political factions tearing Indonesian football asunder and reviving the domestic league, those charges are unfair.

Too expensive? Making a change would leave the PSSI paying for Riedl, Rijsbergen and the new coach. Poor crowds? It was the PSSI that signed off on the hostile takeover of Persija Jakarta, whose Jakmania supporters make up the bulk of Indonesia’s crowds at Gelora Bung Karno, and spurred the boycott that has left so many seats unfilled.

Indonesia has had six managers since 2000, not including repeat appearances by Ivan Kolev and Benny Dollo. Putting another new face on the senior team’s bench will do little to address the systemic problems holding back the nation.

Most of those problems are long-term concerns, though, and the current leadership would struggle to organize a bake sale. For now, the best thing the PSSI could do is focus on restarting the domestic league. Sacking Rijsbergen and denying any culpability on its part for Indonesian football’s woes will only further entrench a rotten status quo.

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