The popularity of the Indonesian national football team has never been so high. Even though it failed to win in a recent championship held every two years, praise and sympathy from the fans continues to pour in. Some politicians even used this fame for their own interests. However, the success of the Garuda Team should be seen in the light of the work done by coach Alfred Riedl, whose ability was once questioned.
LOVE is blind. Defeated decisively 3-0 by the Malaysian national team, supporters of the Indonesian football team who had flown to Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur to support their favorite players, did not feel disappointed or brokenhearted.
On Sunday night last week, more or less one hour after the match, a dejected mood came over the white shuttle bus carrying the players. Their heads were hanging low, each engrossed in their own thoughts. Inside the bus, only Oktavianus Maniani could be seen waving back to the fans. The mood outside, however, could not have been more different. Supporters had gathered in front of the bus which had begun to roll out, shouting chants, waving the Indonesian flag, holding up banners of praise and encouragement, while singing Garuda di Dadaku (The Garuda is in My Heart). The bus, escorted by two police motorcycles, had to stop several times.
Giving up three goals while returning none in a 12-minute span of the second half had spooked the players, who had come out victorious in their last five matches. “In the stadium’s dressing room, they looked liked they had been struck by a heavy object,” said Iman Arif, deputy in charge of technical affairs at the National Team Board. But, the tragic tale would not end there. A similar drama took place three days later, in the Senayan locker room. This time, team captain Firman Utina appeared glassy-eyed. This player who was suffering from an injured knee failed to score a penalty kick during the game in Senayan.
Indonesia finally won that match 2-1, but the victory was not enough to cover the aggregate goal points after its defeat in Kuala Lumpur. Four times they made it to the final, and four times the team ended up as the runner-up. However, this time was different. Although it failed to become champion, the overall performance of the national team at the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Suzuki Cup games raised the spirits of Indonesian football fans. After Indonesia defeated Laos and Malaysia by scores of 6-0 and 5-1, respectively, Gelora Bung Karno Stadium was always full of spectators, with celebrities and government officials among them. The players, and even the coaches and team assistants, suddenly became celebrities. They were asked for autographs and photos, and met with top government officials.
After the team members went their separate ways on Thursday last week, the lobby of the Sultan Hotel, where the Garuda Team players were staying, was filled with hundreds of people who wanted to see them leave the hotel. Some were lucky enough to greet and have their photo taken together with team members who had gathered in the restaurant one floor below the lobby. Seemingly, the public had fallen in love with the national team after their seven performances. Everyone agreed that a new era of Indonesian football had begun.
IN December 2009, Indonesian football was at its lowest point. It was the worst performance in the history of the Indonesian national team: the key elimination factor in their group in the 2009 SEA Games. This team under the direction of coach Benny Dollo suffered a painful 0-2 loss to host nation Laos, the immature team which, along with Cambodia, usually gave up the most goals in Southeast Asia. The victory of Laos—which reached the semifinal after becoming group champion—was said to have been the result of the discipline which had been imparted by their new coach, Alfred Riedl.
After this heartbreaking match, the manager of the Indonesian team, Andi Darussalam, had a talk with Riedl. “I congratulated him and asked about the possibility of his coaching the Indonesian team,” said Andi. However, the one who persuaded this Austrian coach to manage the Indonesian squad was none other than a fellow countryman who had once stayed in Indonesia, Wolfgang Pikal. “Pikal knew that I was not bound by a contract and gave me the news that Indonesia was looking for a coach,” said Riedl, who was contacted by Pikal early last year.
Pikal, who is nobody in the All-Indonesia Football Federation (PSSI), could not immediately bring Riedl to Jakarta. “He only gave a compact disc containing information about Indonesian football,” said Riedl. Riedl’s wait ended when Iman Arif was appointed as Chairman of the National Team Board. “With Iman, it only took a week to get a contract signed,” he said. Riedl said the shareholders of the Leicester City club in the British Championship League (one level below the Premier League) really understood his desire and the need of the national team.
Iman Arif said that Riedl beat out 12 other candidates sought by PSSI. One strong competitor for Riedl was Ruud Krol, a former player of the Dutch national team who took his national team to the World Cup Final in 1974 and 1978. Despite being liked more by PSSI Chairman Nurdin Halid, Krol was not signed because he asked to be paid about Rp700 million per month. Riedl, who was not as outstanding as Krol when he was a player—he was only a top scorer in the Austrian and Belgian leagues—was willing to accept a salary of Rp140 million.
Another consideration was that Riedl understood better the football map of Southeast Asia, and this was important to meet Indonesia’s target of becoming the champion of the 2010 AFF and 2011 SEA Games. “In addition to that, Riedl’s strong points compared to other candidates are his firmness and discipline,” said Iman Arif, an executive at the Arutmin coal company, who is also the CEO of the Arsenal Indonesia Football School. Iman was also the one who drew up PSSI’s contract with Riedl. “At that time the coach had to immediately be decided on in order to prepare the team,” he said.
Despite having signed Riedl to a contract, it turned out that PSSI was still dreaming of getting one of the top coaches in the world. They mentioned Fatih Terim, the Turkish coach who took his country to the semifinal of the 2008 European Championship, and had experience in Italian Serie A competitions with AC Milan and Fiorentina. At that time, PSSI Chairman Nurdin Halid hoped that Terim would coach the senior team, while Riedl would coach the under-23 team. However, Terim’s salary would cost Rp1 billion, putting an end to PSSI’s dream.
Riedl’s position was secured. He appointed Wolfgang Pikal as his assistant. In his youth, Pikal—now 43—was a midfielder in second- and third-division clubs in Austria. However, his career was not outstanding, and he even had to retire early in 1989 due to a broken leg. Pikal moved to Bali, went into the textile business and married a local woman. After living in Bali for 10 years he again became interested in football. “I have 20 training certificates from clubs around the world,” he said.
It was the trio of Riedl, Pikal, and Iman which formed and polished the performance of the national team. The team was formed by scouting for players who were later recruited by Iman. Before then, the National Team Board did not have a recruitment system, which made it difficult to find talented players. “Every month we made 20 trips to various regions. From our observations came the unfamiliar names on the national team, but they gave impressive performances on the field, such as Muhammad Nasuha and Zulkifli Syukur.
ON October 8, 2010 the team under Riedl’s care received the honor of playing against Uruguay in a friendly match at Bung Karno Stadium, which was watched by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Uruguay, a semifinalist in the 2010 World Cup, was certainly no match for Bambang Pamungkas and teammates. After trailing by a goal, the guest team strengthened by Luis Suarez sent seven goals past Markus Horison.
Just as it was every other time the national team played, there were people in the crowd who diligently shouted for PSSI Chairman Nurdin Halid to step down.
Four days later, Indonesia had another test match. This time, in Bandung, the national team won 3-0 over the team ranked 144th in the world, the Maldives. Here Riedl’s firmness led him to dispute with team manager Andi Darussalam. At that time, Riedl ordered Andi to get rid of the reporters who were near the dinner table of the national team, a few hours before the match. “Who does he think he is, trying to make a living here but doesn’t know the customs,” said Andi, who finally decided to sit in the stands during the match.
After this test match, PSSI Chairman Nurdin Halid asked the National Team Board to evaluate Riedl, as he felt that he had not made any real progress with the team. “At that time, there was indeed a plan to replace Riedl because of the bad result against Uruguay,” said Andi Darussalam. However, he emphasized that this plan was not due to himself and Riedl. Nevertheless, it was not meant to be, as Team Board Chairman Iman Arif did not respond to the evaluation request. “At that time there was indeed turmoil,” he said, giving no further details.
According to Andi, he and Riedl reconciled after meeting at the office of Iman Arif. “I said what I didn’t like, and so did Riedl. So we compromised,” he said. Riedl himself said that his dispute with Andi was not an issue. In addition to the short time left to find a new coach, there was a clause in the contract made by Iman which led PSSI to cancel firing Riedl. “PSSI would still have to pay the entire amount of the contract, including bonuses if the national team became champion, even under another coach,” said Andi.
It was this contract which was made by Iman Arif that is suspected of making PSSI officials upset, leading them to move Iman from his position as Chairman of the National Team Body to deputy of engineering. The position of chairman was filled by Nirwan Bakrie. When asked about this demotion, Iman only gave a short comment, “There was political pressure from outside.” He also said that changes needed to be made in PSSI. “It must be freed from politics, but it is indeed difficult to keep football away from politics, especially nearing the 2014 General Elections,” he said.
With little time left to prepare for the AFF Cup, a series of problems cropped up. This included the dropping of Boaz Salossa. “Boaz was a good player. We felt it was a loss, but this was the authority of the coach,” said Andi. This was because this top scorer of the Super Indonesia League had joined them a few days late. Riedl’s disciplinary measures were indeed frightening for players, because there were fines if they were late, including for the eating schedule. “I was once fined Rp300,000 for being three minutes late to breakfast,” said defender Yesaya Desnam.
The loss of Boaz was offset by the dazzling performance of the new players, including two players who were naturalized citizens, Christian Gonzales and Irfan Bachdim. According to Iman Arif, although it is not the best solution, naturalization can increase Indonesian achievement. “Naturalization can change the configuration of the national team and create closer competition between players,” he said. He said that Gonzales—who scored the most goals over five seasons in Indonesia—had long been wanted to strengthen the national team.
UNTIL the semifinal round of the AFF Cup, the team gave convincing performances. Although they did not score many goals in the two semifinal matches, the national team was able to revive the enthusiasm of football fans. Crowds of people watched training sessions of the team, and tens of thousands were willing to line up for days to get tickets for the matches. Firman Utina and friends were taken off to attend various activities outside of the team’s schedule. Riedl, who seldom spoke to the press, could take it no longer. “Federation activities (PSSI) are disturbing us too much,” he said after the defeat to Malaysia.
A former manager of the national team, I Gusti Kompyang Manila said that various activities, such as visiting the home of Aburizal Bakrie and an istigasah mass prayer gathering at an Islamic boarding school, had worn out the players. “The manager should have emphatically refused to attend these events,” said Manila, who successfully took Indonesia to win the gold at the SEA Games in Manila in 1991. The excessive media coverage, including reporters who were on the plane to Kuala Lumpur, made the players uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, Andi Darussalam disagreed that activities outside the schedule was the cause of Indonesia’s defeat. He also regretted Riedl’s comment which said that those activities were excessive. “I asked Riedl to clarify this with the media, and he said that it had not been upsetting,” said Andi. Speaking to Tempo on Thursday last week, Riedl refuted his previous statement. He felt that those activities were not upsetting, and he felt honored to be invited to the home of the Golkar Party Chairman.
Andi said that before Riedl was interviewed by Tempo that day, he and Riedl had spoken alone. “Riedl, you are considered a hero, but the news in the media about the activities and intervention has had a bad impact on PSSI,” said Andi, repeating what he had said to Riedl. Speaking to Andi, Riedl disagreed that he never said that there was any intervention or unscheduled activities which was upsetting. The 61-year-old coach emphasized that all of the team’s activities outside of the training schedule had been approved by him.
On their failure to win the championship, Riedl emphasized that Indonesia was still the best team in the tournament, scoring 17 goals and only losing one of seven matches. Supporters of the national team never stopped talking about the players, who mostly held their heads low when they received the silver medal from the tournament committee. Amid the sharp criticism of the performance of PSSI and Nurdin Halid, Riedl had come to the rescue. PSSI has ensured that Riedl’s position is secure. “He will continue to be the coach of the national team,” said Nurdin.
Presiding over PSSI for almost eight years without gaining special achievements has made Nurdin the target of accusations. Just like in the previous match, banners reading ‘Nurdin Step Down’, ‘Crush Nurdin’, or ‘Nurdin is Cursed’ were hung around the stadium during this match. This man who was once jailed for 17 months over a sugar-smuggling case is indeed not very popular with serious national football fans, but he is influential in the PSSI Congress. In the 2003 congress, he defeated Yacob Nuwawea (Minister of Labor, 2001-2004). Three years ago, in an election in Makassar, he emerged as the sole candidate and was unanimously elected as PSSI Chairman (2007-2011).
Undoubtedly, Nurdin is controversial. According to one Tempo source it was Nurdin who took the national team players to social events: to the home of Golkar Party Chairman Aburizal Bakrie, an istigasah event at the Assidiqiyah Islamic boarding school, and others—even though Riedl disapproved of them. Is this true? “There was no such thing. For each activity I always asked for the coach’s permission. The PSSI board members are solid. There is no split. It is 1000 percent cohesive,” said Nurdin.
Adek Media, Harun Mahbub (Kuala Lumpur), Tito Sianipar, Rina Widiastuti, Cheta Nilawati