Monday, May 01, 2017


Abduh Lestalahu Adds Punch To 1st Uniform Derby

The face of football in Indonesia has been changing over the last few years as I have talked about here on more than one occasion. Sponsors from the private sector have finally been attracted to the country's most popular sport and clubs have been busy reinventing themselves or consolidating as they face up to the realities caused by the absence of local tax payer funds and tobacco sponsorship.

With no official league taking place in 2016 a couple of significant changes took place under the radar of non Indonesian language media that could have long term effects on the game. Into the football vacuum came a number of competitions like the President's Cup, Bhayangkara Cup and the General Sudirman Cup. Perhaps buoyed by the success of these competitions, The uniforms behind the latter two decided to get more involved. 

Persikubar/Persebaya/Surabaya United/Bonek FC saga came to an end when a majority shareholding in the professional football licence, I hesitate to say club, was taken over by the national police force with the new club called Bhayangkara. After flirting with PSMS the military's own football club, PS TNI, took over the licence of Persiram Raja Ampat and took their place in the Indonesia Soccer Championship alongside Bhayangkara.

Whereas once Indonesia stood apart from its South East Asian neighbours in not having professional uniform sides now they followed in the footsteps of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The military influence has since grown with one of their own taking over the chairmanship of the PSSI.

Now you don't need to spend a long time following current affairs here to be aware of a simmering rivalry between the police and the military and as it is somewhat useful to have an understanding of this tension it is not a road I am interested in going down here. For some background, check out this and this story

Against a background of institutional rivalry and with two professional football clubs actively seeking to recruit young players into their ranks should we be surprised when that culture of suspicion and dislike expresses itself on the football field?

As I walked around Patriot Stadium in Bekasi after a painful two hour drive from South Jakarta it took me a while to realise somethings that were not there. The Patriot Stadium is a brand new facility, rising on the shes of a more traditional but more limited venue. It's relatively clean and tidy and has plenty of facilities, read toilets and prayer rooms, for local fans. But there were no vendors selling scarves and t shirts of home side Bhayangkara. Club stewards looked to be thin on the ground. There were plenty of off duty police there of course, resplendent in their official sports outfit of yellow and black t shirts and track pants, digging into their officially provided chicken and rice served in polystyrene packs. But ask a policeman, either fan or on duty, where to buy tickets and no one knew. They wouldn't. They probably got theirs as a perk of the job.

Eventually we found a ticket office from one of the stadium plans stuck on a wall. It had one vendor inside and one person queuing. 

To be fair the game started off well enough with two sides attempting to play some football with perhaps PS TNI, who had Portuguese striker Elio Matins making his debut, looking the better side in the early exchanges. Simon McMenemy had gone with the likes of Firman Utina, Muchlis Hadi and Thiago Furtuoso on the bench as he struggled with players who were fully fit but his side, with Evan Dimas starting, looked useful on the break. However tidy approach play from both sides was let down by poor finishing until Aboubacar Sylla nodded home from close range to give the visitors the lead.

Tempers were starting to fray though and at the half time whistle PS TNI defender Abduh Lestalahu laid hands onto the chest of McMenemy and were are not talking in the spiritual sense here. The 23 year old defender, who apparently is a military policeman in his day job, came to the attention of fans throughout the region when he kicked the ball at the Thai bench during the second leg of the ASEAN Football Federation Final 2nd Leg in Bangkok last year. It was obviously no one off for a fine player but one with a short fuse. Football in this country is littered with the debris of unfulfilled careers. Let us hope Lestalahu doesn't imbibe too much of the military esprit de corps and is allowed to develop as a footballer.

Perhaps because the English coach didn't make too much of a big deal about it, Lestalahu didn't receive any punishment from the ref but it wasn't long before the match official did get busy brandishing a second for Manahati just shy of the hour mark for a physical challenge from behind. Martins, the new lad from Portugal was soon learning his role extended beyond being a footballer; he was morphing into a fully fledged peacekeeper, minus the blue helmet.

Martins was able to get back to his day job with a fine finish from just inside the box to confirm the three points sparking an exodus for the gates from some of the faithful and although Dinan Yahdian Javier did pull one back in injury time for the home side Bhayangkara were unable to complete the comeback. All that was left was for the Lestalahu show to play out as he lamped Brazilian striker Thiago Fortuoso, on as a sub for Wahyu Subo Seto. 

Say one thing about Lestalahu, whose uncle Ramdani plays for Persija. By taking on the Thai bench in Bangkok, the large McMenemy and the large Fortuoso he is a guy you wouldn't mind having in the trenches with you when things go off. Whoops, wrong metaphor.

The three points moved PS TNI up to third but if their coach Laurent Hatton felt he was due some congratulations from the management he was sadly mistaken. The next day it was announced he had been replaced by Bulgarian Ivan Kolev to be followed out the door by goalscorer Sylla and Leo Caramara. Following Kolev, who previously coached the national team as well as Persipura and Sriwijaya, are Argentinians Leonel Nunez (an attacking midfielder who had a short stint in Malaysia with Johor Darul Ta'zim) and defender Facundo Talin.

Some fans have been critical of the greater role being played by the uniforms in football in recent years and the events in Bekasi have only confirmed those doubts. Only time will tell us whether Bhayangkara v PS TNI will become the latest rivalry in the local game or Saturday's events were a one off. Many are hoping for the latter.

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