Arrival of EPL champion another boost for recovering Indonesian football
Fans around the archipelago have become used to seeing negative news stories being reported: FIFA bans, breakaway leagues, rebel national teams, federation chiefs in prison and foreign players dying after going unpaid and not being able to afford medical treatment. The list is a long one.
So last week’s news – that Michael Essien had signed with Persib Bandung – came almost out of nowhere and was most welcome.
This is a man who has won Premier League and Champions League titles and played for some of the biggest clubs in the world
Now former Nigerian international and English Premier League standout Peter Odemwingie is believed to be close to joining Madura United.
Maybe the two signings aren’t connected, but surely the knowledge that Essien is already there can only reassure other potential imports.
Essien’s move raised eyebrows everywhere and – this time – not in a bad way.
At 34, Essien is not the player he was when at his peak, a driving, intelligent midfielder who could have slotted in to any team in the world. If he was still at that level then obviously he wouldn’t have been without a club for the last six months and would not be preparing for a season in Indonesia.
Yet he is surely the biggest import signing to ever arrive on those shores.
There is not a huge amount of competition, with Mario Kempes owning that accolade in the past. Not many Asian leagues have been home to a player who has scored two goals in a World Cup final.
But the Argentina striker and hero of 1978 was almost 40 when he had a short spell with Pelita Jaya in the early 1990s.
Roger Milla was well into his forties when he arrived at the same club. The Cameroonian may not have won the World Cup, but he stamped, or perhaps it’s better to say he shimmied, his way into the history books with some crucial goals and sexy dances.
Essien is much closer to his peak (though with Milla, it is debatable as to exactly when his peak occurred) and it just seems like yesterday he was playing in the biggest stadiums in the best leagues in the world.
Now though the Ghanaian is going to experience the unique atmosphere of football in Bandung and Indonesia. In some ways, it is a better signing for the league in general than the club. Bandung have decent options in midfield but then Essien is going to play.
You don't go to the trouble and expense of landing such a player (who turned down Melbourne Victory not long ago) and leave him on the sidelines.