Monday, March 11, 2013

The summer of Indonesia?

Stop me if you've heard this one. A big European club announces it's going to visit Indonesia, cites the country's huge fan base and love of soccer, promises it'll bring its best squad and makes positive noises about starting an academy in the country. Sound familiar? Well, you can add Chelsea to the conga line of European clubs hoping to exploit tap into Indonesia's love of the beautiful game.
Chelsea will follow on the heels of English Premier League foe Arsenal as the second big-time club from England’s top flight to play in the capital this year, with the match scheduled for July 25.

Sponsored by lender Bank Negara Indonesia, the 2012 European Champions League winner will face the Indonesia All Stars, a team that will be selected by BNI customers via a poll starting today.

“We are very pleased to announce this historic fixture — Chelsea’s first game in Indonesia,” club CEO Ron Gourlay told a press conference in Jakarta on Thursday.

“We know there is huge support for the team in the country. The fan [base] here is enormous. A figure of over 2 million fans in Indonesia on our Facebook page demonstrates that, and we are delighted our supporters will have the chance to watch us play in Jakarta.”
The London rivals could be just part of the cavalcade of stars passing through Gelora Bung Karno this summer, though. If you believe Wikipedia, the Internet's most unimpeachable source, fans in Indonesia could find their wallets tapped out long before Ramadan ends on August 7.

Maybe all those high-profile, money-spinning friendlies will help distract attention as Indonesia fails to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup, missing its second straight continental championship after reaching the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2007 editions. No Southeast Asian nation competed in the 2011 tournament and, while five Asean teams have reached the final round of qualifying for the 2015 edition in Australia, early returns suggest that situation is likely to repeat itself.

Of course, the usual caveats apply -- friendlies have a worrying tendency of falling through, a potential FIFA ban still looms over Indonesia, etc. In the latest bit of strangeness out of Jakarta, the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) hired Luis Manuel Blanco, a 60-year-old Argentine, to lead the senior team. That no doubt came as a shock to his predecessor Nil Maizar, who to date has not been fired or otherwise moved out of the job.
The appointment appeared to catch many by surprise, including Bob Hippy, a PSSI executive committee member and national team coordinator.

Bob said that Djohar [Arifin Husin, PSSI chairman] made the decision without consulting other executive committee members. “All I know is that Blanco came to Indonesia on the Argentine ambassador’s invitation, not on behalf of the Argentine Football Association.”

As the man in charge of the national team, Bob said he refused to replace Nil with Blanco. He said Djohar had never told him that Blanco would be at the helm.

“We can’t fire Nil just like that,” Bob said. “Besides, Djohar initially told me that there would be a new coach from Argentina and it’s up to me to assign him. He’s not supposed to be head coach.”
There are now two separate organizations calling up players ahead of the March 22 Asian Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia. The PSSI, ever the territorial type, is urging players to ignore call-ups from the Blanco-led team. FIFA's latest deadline for Indonesia to get its house in order and avoid a ban is March 30, but at this point you're more likely to see Sepp Blatter step down as the president of FIFA, tearily admitting he could no longer live with the guilt of letting the world's game rot under his watch.

This is the market half of Europe is falling over itself to tap? Maybe the economic theory of catastro-tunity is more widespread than once thought.

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