Things can only get better: five 2015 wishes for Indonesian football
It can be difficult at times to be optimistic about Indonesian football. The game lurches from one disaster to another.
Consequently, many supporters are resigned to the national team's fate as Southeast Asia's biggest underachievers. This is even more relevant after Merah Putih crashed out of the AFF Suzuki Cup in the group stage, winning only their meaningless final game against Laos in their Group A assignments.
Still, it would be nice if a few lessons could be taken on board for 2015. So, with the cautious optimism only an Indonesian football fan can draw upon, here are five wishes for the New Year.
1. Find an Indonesian Kiatisuk for national team
Let's be honest. Little good came out of Indonesia's efforts at the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup. They got out of jail against Vietnam: a couple of defensive errors gave them a point they didn't deserve. They never got started against the Philippines, going down 4-0 in an embarrassing defeat. Beating Laos in the final game 5-1 doesn't count: the tie was meaningless.
There was some exciting football on show from the likes of champions Thailand, runners-up Malaysia, as well as the Philippines and Vietnam. Indonesia, on the other hand, came across as stale and rusty as coach Alfred Riedl spurned youth and opted for experience. The tactical over-reliance on the long ball to a tall striker failed to capitalise on Indonesia's strengths, and the pacy forward Boas Solossa was little more than a spectator.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the team only performed when the Austrian coach ditched the elder statesmen and plumped for youth in the final game, bringing in Ramdhani Lestalahu and Evan Dimas to such good effect.
The selection of Riedl's replacement has been put on hold for a couple of months. But fans are hoping the PSSI (the football association of Indonesia) can find a fresh, exciting young coach with new ideas and flexibility. A coach who is Indonesia's equivalent to Thailand's Kiatisuk Senamuang, for example, would be the answer.
For fans with a large amount of patience, there is some good news on the horizon. Former international striker Bambang Pamungkas, who recently rejoined Persija Jakarta, is reportedly set to begin taking his coaching badges in the New Year.
2. Clubs must catch up to rest of region
It is not just with the national team where Indonesia is falling behind in the region. At club level, the likes of Johor Darul Takzim (Malaysia), Buriram United and Muangthong United (both Thailand) have shown what can be achieved with deep pockets, professional management and vision.
All three clubs have invested heavily in facilities and infrastructure as well as on the playing front. They are reaping the benefits on and off the pitch.
The contrast with Indonesia is telling. Club owners see little point in spending money on training facilities, for example. It was recently reported in a local newspaper that just one football club in the Indonesia Super League -- Semen Padang -- possessed their own training centre. Others, like Persija Jakarta, are shunted from one practice field to another depending on availability.
It would be nice if just one club owner saw the benefits of owning their own facility with training pitches, dressing rooms and dining quarters. After all, you can't argue with success.
3. A successful Indonesia Super League season
With the new season due to start in February, both Sriwijaya Palembang and Persija Jakarta have moved quickly to strengthen their squads in the hope of wresting the title from holders, Persib Bandung.
In contrast, three-time winners Persipura Jayapura are yet to even appoint a coach for the new season. Persebaya Surabaya, big spenders in the last campaign, have opted for youth after discarding the highly-paid players who fizzled toward the end of last season.
Champions Persib have ignored the old maxim of strengthening a successful side. They lost two strikers -- top scorer Ferdinand Sinaga as well as Djibril Coulibaly -- and have brought in only Brazilian Aron Da Silva from the Thai Premier League to date. That leaves them short up front. With a long domestic league campaign ahead -- as well as competing in the Indonesian Cup and the AFC Champions League -- Persib fans must be hoping the club gets more active in the transfer market.
The most intriguing move of the close season has seen Putra Samarinda -- commonly known as Pusam -- leave their home in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, and head to Bali, where they will be known as Bali United Pusam. It remains to be seen whether the move will entice fans to the stadium. But there will certainly be many supporters of other teams looking forward to away days amid the beaches and mountains on the Island of the Gods.
4. Proper preparation for age group sides
2013 was a very exciting year for fans of Indonesian football. It was when they tasted rare glory on the international stage, at U-19 level. The team, who had come from nowhere, triumphed in the AFF U-19 Championships in Sidoarjo, East Java. They followed that up with success in the AFC U-19 qualifying round in Jakarta.
In a country starved of success for decades, this double triumph was celebrated like other nations would celebrate a World Cup. Indonesia's U-19s found themselves in the AFC U-19 Championships in Myanmar. To prepare, the PSSI ensured their youthful charges would get plenty of practice. They were sent on a number of tours across the archipelago, playing local sides of varying quality. In the process, they spent large amounts of time stuck on cramped buses, shuttling from one town to another.
This was not the best preparation for an international event, and there was little surprise when Indonesia bombed in Myanmar, losing all three games against Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Australia. It looked as if a team of unattached Sumatra teenagers were taking on their peers from countries with serious investment in youth in an unequal contest.
2015 is going to be a busy year for the Indonesia U-23s. They will face South Korea, Timor Leste and Brunei in the AFC Championship Qualifying in March. They will follow that with the South East Asian Games, hosted by Singapore, in June. Fans will be hoping the team are given better quality preparation time ahead of those two important events.
5. Keep Indonesia's Youth Cup going
The return of the Soeration Cup, a national tournament for players aged 17 and under, was welcomed in 2014. It's a competition that lacks a website or regular media updates but is the nearest thing the country has to a unified youth setup. It will be instrumental in producing the next generation of players.
The organisation of the Cup, with innumerable teams from across the country, must be a logistical nightmare. But the fact that it even took place was a credit to all involved. It started in August, with the final played in December, where Jember United defeated Persis Solo, 3-1.
It is a rare success story, shining out amid a torrent of bad news. Let's hope the Soeration Cup continues in the seasons ahead and that it gets the recognition it deserves, from both the organisers and the media.
Antony Sutton is a regular contributor to the Jakarta Globe as well as Indonesian language websites. Follow him on Twitter @JakartaCasual