SEA Games 2011: Endangered Species – Javanese Footballers

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Java, the island where capital city Jakarta lies.
Java, the birthplace of the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Java, the WORLD’S most populous island.
Java, the home to 60% of the total population of Indonesia: world’s fourth most populous country.
Java, the home to 7 of 15 Indonesia Super League clubs.

Yet from the eleven players of the Indonesian team who started the 13th November match against Thailand, only four are from Java, including the goalkeeper. Not even half of the team.

This, is the future of Indonesian football.

Indonesia was initially left behind by the bandwagon of naturalizing foreign players in football, an industry that was pioneered by Singapore in South East Asia. Perhaps one of the main reasons is that Indonesia still believes in the ability of its people, all 237 million of them. However, this belief started to erode in the 2010 AFF Cup, when Indonesia fielded a Uruguayan striker and a Dutch midfielder. There is no more place for the legendary Javanese striker: Bambang Pamungkas.

No more place for Bambang.

At first, the decision to set aside local talents appeared to bear fruit, when Indonesia trashed Malaysia 5-1 in the opening match. However, that tournament would end in tragedy when the Indonesian team, though strengthened by foreign players, lost in the final: against Malaysia, which fielded a virtually under-23 side made entirely of homegrown talents.

Any true football fan would think that Indonesia will take a long, hard look at itself and start to go back to nurturing and developing young local football talents. Nurdin Halid, Chairman of PSSI, resigned. Javanese football looks like it was heading the right way.

Ironically, Nurdin Halid’s resignation was not ultimately caused by the demonstrations held by the thousands of Indonesian football fans. Nurdin Halid’s resignation was caused by an intervention from a foreign entity: FIFA, which banned him from running as a third term candidate for the Chairman’s post.

Sadly, the new PSSI management still craves another form of foreign intervention. While the era of Nurdin Halid saw Cristian Gonzales and Irfan Bachdim played for Indonesia, the new era of PSSI will see even more foreign imports: Diego Michiels (Netherlands), Ruben Wuarbanaran (Netherlands), Joey Suk (Netherlands), Stefano Lilipaly (Netherlands), Jhon van Beukering (Netherlands), Sergio van Dijk (Netherlands), Tonnie Cusell (Netherlands), and even two players with no Indonesian blood at all: Victor Igbonefo (Nigeria) and Greg Nwokolo (Nigeria).

Foreign mercenaries: While hordes of Indonesians went overseas to find a living, the Indonesian government puts more faith in foreign workforce. From the left: Tonnie Cusell (Netherlands), Stefano Lilipaly (Netherlands), Greg Nwokolo (Nigeria), Jhon van Beukering (Netherlands), Victor Igbonefo (Nigeria).

Nine players in total.

Add the two players from the Nurdin Halid era and you will get eleven players.

Perhaps the one and only position still available for a Javanese football player is the goalkeeper position. However, is it necessary for the millions of the Javanese people, the heart and soul of Indonesia, to be put in a spot where they should struggle for a mere single spot in the Garuda eleven?

In addition to the foreign invasion, the Javanese football players now have to face the rise of Papuan football. Besides a Dutch player in Diego Michiels, four from the Garuda Muda’s first eleven in the 2011 SEA Games are from Papua.

The rise of Papuan football. The decline of Javanese football?

The Indonesian strike force today has no Javanese appearance at all. What is more puzzling is where have all the Papuan players gone before. What is known to many is that Papua has a history of uprising against the mainly Javanese-controlled Indonesian government. Political chit chats aside, a Papuan football club, Persipura, has now won the Indonesian Super League twice, including this year’s edition, since participating in Indonesia’s top football competition in 2005.

Persipura, a club from Jayapura, capital of Papua. Champions of the 2010-2011 Indonesia Super League.

The year 2012 will bear witness to the future direction and fortune of Javanese football, when the senior football tournament, the AFF Cup, will be held in Kuala Lumpur. With eleven foreign imports, all of South East Asia will be waiting to find out whether there is still a place in the heart of Garuda for one of their own.

Or whether the 135 million Javanese people should start switching their focus to other jobs and totally forget about building a career in football.

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