Offering Indonesian footballers a respite is a regional responsibility
The new year is coming closer and 2016 is supposed to be the year of the ASEAN Super League. Details are still sketchier than an Arsene Wenger recollection of an Arsenal foul, but the region does not have to wait for some tournament imposed from above to start working together.
Member countries can start doing so now in order to help themselves and each other. What everyone kind of knows in their heads but has yet to feel in their hearts is that a strong ASEAN region helps everyone. It may be nice for Thailand to temporarily dominate their backyard. But ultimately, if the War Elephants want to be as good as they can potentially be, then competition from those nearest - if not quite dearest - is necessary.
Imagine if the AFF Suzuki Cup was not just a colourful and passion-filled tournament, but one full of quality stretching from the group games right to the final. It is already the most interesting of Asia's regional tournaments, but it stands to become the continent’s best on the pitch as well. For ASEAN to be strong, Indonesia must be, too. At the very least, it can't be weak. In terms of population, the country is not far from accounting for half of ASEAN's 625 million or so. The proportion of passion may be harder to quantify but that's sizeable too.
Football leaders in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Hanoi and elsewhere should be lending their collective minds towards solving the issues in Indonesia. The country was banned from international football by FIFA last May, and, six months later, nothing has changed. Reaching the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup are out of question and clubs were forced to withdraw from the AFC Cup. In spite of the organization of several unofficial competitions, the league has ground to a halt. Many clubs are not playing.
Paying players is hard when there are no customers and little money is coming in. The corporate sector is starting to become Messi-like at avoiding entanglements with a domestic game suffering from current chaos and future unpredictability. It means that youth development programmes have been cancelled and fans and media are turning increasingly to overseas football to satisfy viewing appetites. The whole thing is not only a mess in the present context, but could cause serious damage in future years too.
Capable of greatness
It goes without saying that whatever needs to be done in Indonesia to end the ban should be done. In the meantime, clubs around the ASEAN region can start looking at a few loan deals if the situation drags on into the start of next season. There are plenty of big stars in Indonesia who are in need of football and plenty of clubs around the region that could do with an injection of talent.
Evan Dimas is one of the biggest names and has a healthy reputation as a promising youngster. The 20 year-old first achieved international prominence with his hat-trick in a famous 3-2 win over South Korea during qualification for the 2014 Asian Under-19 championships. He is close to his family and understandably reluctant to stray too far from home. But his case is a unique one, with first-team football essential for his development to continue. Without it, one of the brightest prospects in Asian football is at risk of not fulfilling his potential.
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At the age of 30, Boaz Solossa is rather at the opposite end of the spectrum and time is a little more pressing. The forward was thought to be a crucial part of Persipura Jayapura but then represented another side during the recent President's Cup. Again, this star of Indonesian football deserves better than to be reduced to playing unofficial tournaments while the rest of the world – and Asia – goes on with its football business.
There are others such as Zulham Zamrun, Ferninand Sinaga, Firman Utina and Kurnia Meiga. The list of professional players who need a professional environment to thrive in could go on and on. Some of the clubs have games in hastily-arranged cup competitions, some do not. A temporary loan abroad is an arrangement which may suit all parties, allowing players to return home when – if – the ban was lifted.
Growth as a whole
This would not be a case of opportunistic raiders going in and taking their pick of the best talent as the parent clubs lay helpless. It would be a case of clubs abroad strengthening their squads by adding good players, who in turn benefit from something approaching a normal football environment.
Off the field too, it should help too. That the Singaporean S.League is struggling for domestic and international exposure and fans is no secret. The signing of a couple of stars from near home certainly wouldn’t hurt. Taking on someone like Dimas could easily mean more fans tuning in to league games from Indonesia than Singapore itself. Malaysia and Thailand too would benefit from the influx of talent and interest. If there is not a win-win situation to be found in amidst the circumstances, there is, at least, a no-lose situation.
We saw last week as Malaysia’s top-flight told Singapore to take a hike when it came to the Singapore LionsXII that countries will ultimately look after themselves. And that is exactly the point - helping Indonesia is doing just that. A strong Indonesia, or at least one that is not weak, contributes immensely to the strength and power of ASEAN.