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 By Jason Dasey

Inspired by Cruyff, coach Robert Alberts waits and hopes for Indonesia

Sarawak coach Robert Alberts
Robert Alberts was Sarawak coach last season and was on a three-man shortlist for the Malaysia national job.

KUALA LUMPUR -- With Ajax connections to the late Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal, Robert Alberts is probably Southeast Asia's best-known Dutch coach, having won titles in three different nations. But Indonesia's ongoing ban from FIFA has limited the 61-year-old's job prospects.

Alberts, who led Arema FC to the 2010 Indonesian title, has been out of work since parting ways with Malaysia Super League club Sarawak last July, narrowly missing out on getting the Malaysian national job in January. Three different Indonesian clubs have expressed interest in his services, but the nation's extended exile from world football means he has to sit and wait.

FIFA banned Indonesia last June after the government's sports ministry and the local football association failed to resolve their dispute over who was in charge of running the game, ruling the Merah Putih out of 2018 World Cup qualifying and shutting down the Indonesia Super League.

"A club based in Jakarta contacted me this week about the possibility of building a strong team within two years," Alberts told ESPN FC.

Indonesian football fans
Indonesian fans are waiting and hoping that FIFA will lift its ban later this year.

"But the uncertainty about the future means that clubs are not willing to offer normal contracts. There's talk that a meeting with the new FIFA president [Gianni Infantino] will be arranged in May, but no one is quite sure."

With Arema, Alberts became the first foreign manager to win the Indonesian title in his inaugural season. He also coached PSM Makassar in 2010 as he experienced the sporting passion of a Southeast Asia's largest nation, so often shackled by poor governance and shoddy treatment of professional players and coaches.

"The ban is not good for this football loving country but it was necessary to get rid of the corruption that was rampant amongst some leading officials, affecting the running of the game at all levels," he said.

"If the new people can clean up the corruption and start afresh, there is hope for a much brighter future. Just look at the ongoing, local tournaments, not sanctioned by FIFA, where the following is tremendous."

Alberts landed in Southeast Asia with Malaysian giants Kedah in 1992 having been offered a job after a trip to demonstrate coaching drills he helped develop to improve free kicks.

Robert Alberts, fourth from right in front row, took Home United to the S.League title in 1999.

He won the Malaysian league and cup double in his second season -- 1993 -- and would also lift the Singapore S.League title with Home United in 1999.

But, like most young footballers born and raised in Amsterdam, Alberts had dreamt of a long career with the mighty Ajax. A gifted midfielder, he joined the club's renowned youth system as a 12-year-old and sat on the bench for the first team, without every playing a senior game during more than half a decade with the Dutch giants.

A brush with the late Johan Cruyff when Alberts was a teenager, at the club's famous De Meer Stadium, moulded his football philosophy for decades to come.

"When I was in the injury treatment room waiting for the doctor to give me an injection, the door opened and in stepped Johan Cruyff, who was only 21 years old but already a big star," Alberts said.

"Cruyff laid next to me on the treatment table and started asking me lots of questions, including 'Why do you train every day?'

Johan Cruyff of Ajax and Louis van Gaal of Sparta
At Ajax, Alberts crossed paths with Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal, opponents in this 1982 Eredivisie match.

"My answer was 'to become better.' But he said, 'Wrong. You train only to warm up for your next match.' Those words made a huge impression on me and I have used them ever since. It shows how simple football is and how the greatest footballers are like that because they do everything simply."

Alberts kept in touch with Cruyff and did some scouting work for him when the former was coaching in Sweden in the 1980s.

Van Gaal, like Alberts, never appeared the first team, but the pair did play together for the Ajax reserves a few times before the now Manchester United manager moved to Royal Antwerp in 1973.

Alberts' impression of Van Gaal, who is three years older than him, is less favourable.

Coach Robert Alberts
Alberts has been coaching his son Arjun in Kuala Lumpur as he waits for the end of the ban on Indonesia.

"He was very arrogant to play with," Alberts said. "And almost 20 years later when he was Ajax manager, I went back there with coaches sent by the Swedish football association to study the Ajax way. And he had the same attitude that made all of us not feel very welcome.

"It is not for me to say whether he should continue or not as manager of Manchester United, but it could be that he cannot adapt to the English style."

As Alberts waits at his Kuala Lumpur base for his next coaching assignment, he's putting his energies into developing his 15-year-old son Arjun's game -- he's also a midfielder -- and acting as a distributor for a health product that has helped him shed five kilograms.

But he's hoping that the dark cloud over Indonesian football soon clears so he can bring more of his self-styled Cruyff philosophy to Southeast Asia.

"My time with Arema saw many happy moments as well as some crazy moments. The local people are fanatical in their support for football and they deserve to have an official league again and the national team playing in FIFA tournaments. Let's hope there's good news for Indonesia soon."

Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.

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