FFT's Telling it like it is: Pieter Huistra, Indonesia FA

Former Dutch international Pieter Huistra joined the Indonesian FA as technical director back in 2014. Just months later, FIFA banned the country from competing in football. Here Huistra recounts that turbulent time in his own words...

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I was asked to apply for the position of technical director of the Football Association of Indonesian (PSSI) and, together with two or three other candidates, we held talks with the FA.

This was at the latter stages of 2014 and in the end they chose me.

It was the first time the PSSI had appointed a technical director, something which is now common all over Asia.

Then, unfortunately, everything changed ... the government interference meant FIFA had no choice but to suspend the federation

Hopefully the football associations of the different countries, especially in Southeast Asia, realise that focusing only feeding the top senior teams does not make you stronger. 

At first the arrangement looked quite good. The FA office was making progress with the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA. They really wanted to restructure Indonesian football.

To achieve that, you need people with experience who can see what is needed and know how to build something. You have to look at education and coaching and scouting, though in a big country like Indonesia where do you start?

There are 34 provinces with their own federations and I had to visit them all to see what they were doing, what kind of programmes they had in place and meet the people.

I wanted to do something to ignite some kind of youth development spark. I met so many people who were putting a lot of energy into various endeavours, whether it was managing a small team, organising an under-14 league or just training kids. We have to bring these people together, that would be a great start. Let them meet and get used to the idea that only when people work together will Indonesia improve.

Coaching with Persipasi Bandung Raya last year

In the first months, I had the feeling that the PSSI were really serious in first investigating and then improving the football pyramid and the whole youth development system. 

They wanted me to solve the underlying problems.

I made an assessment and investigated for one or two months and I could see clearly that this area was severely lacking and had to be improved.

They had to make progress and make sure that a young player who is 10 or 11 has a steady line to the top, with a different league to compete in every year and the opportunity to play with good players.

League structure was the first thing they had to set up just to give games to the talented players. Good games, not games you win 10-0, but hard games.

When I told them what was needed, they were happy to support me. We wanted to push the government to get behind it, attract sponsors and set up pilot programmes.

The issue was obvious. In the pro league at that time, the average age was about 28 or 29. There were lots of talented young players who came in the league when they were 23 or 24 and they were seen as young. 

Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven won the title recently with a team with an average age of 22. It is a big difference.

Players in Indonesia develop very late and there is no youth development, so they can never reach their full potential. They have to start earlier. It is the only way.

Initially everything was fine. The office was working hard and we had some nice projects, including under-16 and under-18 teams with full-time training centres to prepare for the AFF Championships.

I had no idea that this could happen. Maybe I was a little naive. I am a football guy and I am not into politics. I never expected anything like this

But then, unfortunately, everything changed.

There were new elections in 2015 for the PSSI president and the government wasn't happy with the decision and froze the federation. The government interference then meant FIFA had no choice but to suspend the federation.

We had a nice programme organising AFC Licences for coaches, we had the first A-Licence course in Indonesia for a long time and the national team was preparing for a first World Cup qualifier.

Because of the FIFA ban, everything basically came to a sudden halt.

Then the big wait started and the big wait became a long one. After the elections we kept trying to work but we could not fly as there was no money. We only worked in and around Jakarta.

I had no idea that this could happen. Maybe I was a little naive. I am a football guy and I am not into politics. I never expected anything like this. It was a completely new experience.

At first they said it would last maybe one or two weeks, then maybe one month. Then it was almost a year and then maybe never. After six months, I left. 

A shot from Huistra's playing days with Rangers. Photo:

I had so many plans. At first after the ban I stayed in Jakarta. I kept contacting people who were expecting new initiatives. We were still working on small-scale programmes.

After 5-6 months, we said ‘OK, that's it’ because we didn't know when the ban would finish. There was no money anymore and no pay.  People back in the Netherlands were saying 'what are you doing?'

The FA did not have the money to pay anyone. The staff numbers got smaller and smaller as many people had to leave and get other jobs.

We didn't know when the ban would finish. There was no money anymore and no pay. People back in the Netherlands were saying 'what are you doing?'

I was sad to leave as I had really sunk my teeth into it. There were many happy memories. I went to West Papau and organised a youth game. The grass was knee high but the whole ceremony was great. The welcome was very nice. The players were going 100 miles an hour and working so hard. There were many experiences like this.

It was a real pity. At least we were able to make a starting point in football development of Indonesia, especially at the youth player level. 

At the moment there is nothing, no structure or schedule. There are some initiatives but they are all different and all aiming at small groups only. The first thing needed, we thought, was to make leagues and to give youth development a structure. 

We wanted to facilitate a situation where teams can play each other and there is cooperation between the federation and especially local government.

Fortunately, the PSSI is back now and there will be new elections and there is a lot to do.

I am happy for many people that the ban is now over and everything has started again. The league is going and so is the national team.

Hopefully, it will give a lot of energy to many people. The vital thing now is the next election for the PSSI. It is important to get the right people involved, those with football in their hearts.