Breakfast of Champions?
In the lead-up to the final match, the players attended a variety of events, including a breakfast at the house of a well-known politician.
HIS eyes narrowed with a look of distaste. His face, which was initially cute, suddenly looked odd. The incident occurred during a joint photograph when a housewife, who was behind him, suddenly grabbed his face then pinched Irfan Bachdim’s cheeks passionately. The handsome man immediately looked uncomfortable, glaring and furrowing his brow.
Millions in the country witnessed the scene on their television screens. After holding an istigasah or joint prayer, the national team players were unable to refuse when asked for a joint photograph.
After twice bringing the Philippines to their knees in the Asian Football Federation (AFF) Cup semifinals, the PSSI national soccer team players were indeed at the peak of their popularity. Although still not yet the champions—because there was still two more legs to play against Malaysia in the final—no matter what they did it could not escape the public spotlight.
The PSSI national team became the morning program champions. Television stations used them to jack up ratings, even including them in infotainment programs, which are usually given to rehashing news from the world of entertainment and celebrities.
Teenagers were also able to meet with their newfound hero, namely Irfan Bachdim, a man of mixed Dutch blood. Thanks to lax security, they were even able to knock on Irfan’s bedroom door, simply so they could all shake hands with him and be photographed together.
And it was not just teenagers who got crazy, the country’s big shots behaved more or less the same. Golkar Party General Chairman Aburizal Bakrie, who prefers to play tennis rather than soccer, invited the entire team to breakfast at his home in Menteng, Central Jakarta.
Not only were they treated to breakfast, during the gathering Ical—as he is usually called—the host, was truly generous. As well as giving them a Rp2.5 billion bonus, he also consented to 25 hectares of his land being used by PSSI as a training ground.
Their stomachs were full. And of course their wallets fat. But there was still something missing. On the evening before their departure for Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, it was the players’ spirits that now needed to be ‘watered’. The entire team was taken off to the Ash-Sidiqiyah Islamic boarding school in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta, for joint prayers.
PSSI General Chairman Nurdin Halid equivocated that the invitation to take part in the prayer event came from boarding school directors who wanted to pray for the national team. “It was very unexpected. [But] because the national team was on free time, we utilized it for the event,” he said.
Apparently however, there was a difference of opinion of Nurdin and Alfred Riedl, the team’s trainer, on the question of that free time. For the trainer from Austria, during free time the players should be given time to relax. Part of this is relaxation is by using a jacuzzi.
What happened was that the players were unable to relax. When they arrived at the boarding school, they were besieged with fans. The religious pupils pushed and shoved to get closer just for a chance to see the players without their shorts, socks and soccer boots. The players’ were visibly exhausted and from their faces they were clearly in a bad mood. When it was time to fly to Kuala Lumpur, there was still more ‘business’ to deal with. On the aircraft, the national team players were invited to chat with a reporter from TV One.
Bukit Jalil was a disaster. On the field they were totally wiped out, losing by three goals without response. Everyone pointed to the tour events and other non-technical factors as the cause. Riedl agreed.
At a press conference he said that there had been a great deal of interference by the All-Indonesia Football Federation. The trainer, known for never smiling, also criticized the intense media coverage.
I Gusti Kompyang Manila, 69, a figure who is no stranger to the world of soccer, was one of those who were furious over the events just prior to the finals. Although according to Manila, it did not actually need to have happened, if the national team manager had had the courage to refuse the various invitations. “Because it’s the manager that manages the team.”
For Manila, a manager is responsible for the team’s focus and concentration. At the end of the day, it is forbidden to mix up soccer with anything else. Moreover his message to the players’ loved ones—family, girlfriends and others—is to also safeguard their health and wellbeing. “They’re just human beings, if a loved one is sick, of course their concentration will be affected,” said Manila.
He also related his experience in dealing with the national team at the Manila SEA Games in 1991. When his team was due to set off for the final, a dinner invitation arrived from Pieter Damanik, Indonesia’s Ambassador to the Philippines at the time. But he declined. “I told Pak Damanik, later after everything’s over,” said the former Jakarta soccer club manager. His reason was simply that he did not want to upset a team that was about to contest a match. It was the correct course of action. The players’ concentration was not broken and Indonesia went on to win the gold medal.
Manila understands all to well that the position of the national team’s manager is very susceptible to intervention by the PSSI management. He has also experienced this. On one such occasion, it was from the PSSI number-one person, a position then held by Kardono.
Kardono happened to question his decision to repatriate two players. Yet both were very much needed in the team. Manila was emphatic and stuck with his decision: the players must return home.
Unlike Manila, it was quite a different story with Andi Darussalam Tabusalla, the national team’s manager this time round. Apparently, the relationship between the management and the trainer is less than warm. The origin of this was an incident that took place when the PSSI team was conducting a test against Maladewa on October 12 in the West Java capital of Bandung.
Riedl was furious with Andi, who brought an outsider into the sterile room, which is reserved for players only. Andi was also angry and decided not to sit at the reserve players’ bench, as if he were the team’s manager. Moreover, as a consequence of the Bandung incident, Andi claimed that PSSI was considering replacing Riedl. “But in the end it was canceled,” he said.
This tension, said Andi, ended after he talked with the trainer. “Two days after that [the incident] we met. We talked to each other about what we did and didn’t like,” said Andi.
Riedl clearly did not like the tour events planned for the team. According to Iman Arief, the deputy head of the National Team Board’s Technical Division, it was odd because the visits were not part of the trainer’s schedule. Nevertheless, Iman reiterated, the events could not have been organized without Riedl’s approval. “If he had not approved, they definitely would not have gone,” said Iman, who is also the former head of the National Team Board before being replaced by Nirwan Bakrie.
According to Iman, the idea for these events originated from PSSI. “Most came from the management board. The initiative came from General Chairman Nurdin Halid,” he said. Andi confirms the story.
But is it true that Riedl agreed? When Tempo met with him on Thursday last week, it was as if Riedl was trying to distance himself from the angry remarks he made earlier when he was in Kuala Lumpur. There was nothing wrong, he said, with the events held before the final.
He also denied that the visits disrupted the physical training schedule that had been planned for that day. “I put together the training schedule and all of the team’s planned activities. No one intervened. It was my decision,” he said.
On the contrary, he said, the visits were good for the team because the players required activities other than practice and needed to get out of the place where they were staying. In addition to this, the visits took place well before the day of the match. “I was happy with the invitations,” said Riedl.
Irfan Budiman, Tito Sianipar, Yandi M.R.