Indonesian coach’s patience starting to wear thin
By John Duerden
The head coach of Indonesia is discovering that when your country is banned from international football, there really isn’t very much to do… This forced inaction could result in Pieter Huistra leaving a job he loves, or loved. The Dutchman accepted the role as the technical director of the Indonesian national team in December 2014 and then took over the coaching duties in May. Soon after, FIFA issued its suspension to the football-loving Southeast Asian nation due to government interference.
Almost five months on and there isn’t any sign of the situation changing soon. The senior national team had to withdraw from qualification for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup, while the country’s clubs were booted out of the AFC Cup.
Then there are all the various youth tournaments that are going on, or will go on, without Indonesian involvement. The way things are going, even the future planned ASEAN Super League may be off limits – one player joked recently that there is a chance it could be settled before the 2034 World Cup, a tournament Southeast Asia is rumoured to be interested in hosting.
Yet it is not just in World Cup qualifiers or AFC Cup games where the absence is felt. It causes damage all the way down the ladder.
Huistra explains to FourFourTwo: “One of the things I was hired for was to start up a programme for youth development. People imagine there must be a lot of talent here, but good players only emerge in the right environment and you have to start building from an early age and develop every age group. This is a problem now, there is no ladder for a talented youth player to become a very good player, there is a lack of structure. We have worked hard since I was hired 10 months ago. Now it has all ground to a halt. There is no money to be had and those who have invested or would consider doing so in the future are understandably thinking again.”
“It can only be resolved when the government wants to talk.
You have to ask them why they are not talking.”
“We have had little or no help from the government,” Huistra continues. “We’ve had to invest a lot of time to set up ties with private sponsors. A lot of the programmes are depending on money we get from sponsors. Now everyone is a little bit wary to invest too much because nobody knows the situation and that really is a pity. There have been a lot of good initiatives, but unfortunately we have to stop these now. Naturally, the 48-year-old is worried about the long-term implications for the country. With a population of a quarter of a billion, Indonesia were underachieving even before the ban. “The longer we stop the further we lag behind,” he says. “Nobody realizes how bad this is for Indonesian football. If you are out for a year, then it takes two or three years to restore the deficit.”
With private money drying up, hopes would normally be pinned on the national federation, even one with the chequered history of the PSSI (Football Association of Indonesia). But according to Huistra, who has extensive coaching experience in his native Netherlands, it is just not possible.
“The FA can’t do much. They have no income, no television money, no sponsorship money, no national team, no league and it is hard to pay salaries. The longer it takes, the worse it gets and the credibility of Indonesia in the world has taken a big hit.”
Asian nations – including Iraq, Kuwait and others – have been on the receiving end of such sanctions in the relatively recent past, but they didn’t last long. Indonesia, as always, is different.
“It doesn’t look like there will be a quick solution. There are two parties involved, the most influential party in all this is the government of Indonesia. FIFA is reacting to that and can’t do much if the government is interfering, it can only suspend.”
The coach is clear as to the party he feels is at fault.
“People should blame the government, it was the cause of all this. As far as I know, there is no connection between FIFA and the government. The thing can only be resolved when the government wants to talk. You have to ask them why they are not talking.”
The country’s president Joko Widodo has been talking, not to FIFA, but to the people about the situation, a painful one for fans in what is a football-loving country.
“He even said in one speech that it is not a bad thing to be out of FIFA. I totally disagree. It is bad for the progress of young players and professional players. It affects the whole industry.
Clubs stop paying all the players and it is the players who are getting the full effect and their families. They get the biggest burden, as do the people who work in clubs and the referees, coaches – thousands are suffering.”
Unofficial competitions have been organised that keep, at least some, clubs going. “It is good for the players. We should not forget the players who are not involved and the clubs that are not participating. Nobody knows what will happen after this has finished.”
Huistra enjoyed a fine playing career with FC Twente, Glasgow Rangers and Sanfrecce Hiroshima. His coaching CV is not bad either, featuring spells as an assistant with Ajax and Vitesse and head coach with Groningen and De Graafschap.
He has never seen anything like this, however, and understandably admits that it could be time for a change of scenery.
“There is a possibility to leave. If there are offers coming in, then I will consider it. I would like to stay in Asia. I like working here, there is a lot of good work to be done. In other countries in the region, I follow everything. I am close to Thai and Malaysian football and try to follow them as much as possible. If there is any possibility, I would consider it. Australia is not far from here.”
But he will be sad to depart Jakarta.
“If I leave, I leave with regret. There is a lot of potential, but at the moment, it’s all frustrating. Indonesia could be a giant.”