Interview ESPN: Indonesian football & FIFA

Recently I spoke with Jason Dasey for ESPN about the current situation in Indonesian football:

Indonesia’s Dutch coach Pieter Huistra learns to work
in uncertain times

JAKARTA, Indonesia — As the newly appointed interim head coach and technical director of Indonesia, former Dutch international Pieter Huistra has one of the toughest jobs in football.

This week is particularly stressful, as the onetime Glasgow Rangers winger tries to work out what the seismic FIFA scandal means to Southeast Asia’s largest football nation.

FIFA is supposed to rule at its congress on Friday if Indonesia will be handed sanctions — including possible expulsion from the world body — in the wake of a conflict between the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) and the national government.

The PSSI has been suspended by the Youth and Sports Ministry, forcing the cancellation earlier this month of the 2015 Indonesia Super League season.

But the latest developments, with 14 people linked to FIFA indicted on corruption charges by U.S. authorities, could buy more time as Indonesian football tries to sort itself out.

“Of course, it would be good for Indonesia if there’s no ban now or in the future,” Huistra told ESPN FC. “It will be even better for Indonesia if the people involved can settle their disagreements and start working together because there is a lot of talent here.”

He arrived in Jakarta in December, midway through the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup after another disappointing performance, when the Merah Putihย were eliminated in the group stages under Austrian Alfred Riedl.

Huistra, 48, will be in charge for Indonesia’s opening World Cup qualifying matches away to Chinese Taipei on June 11 and home to Iraq on June 16. But he could stay on for longer in the top job.

“We were looking for a new national head coach to take over but because of the insecure situation, we didn’t think it was fair to bring in a new guy, so I was asked to do it for these two games,” he said.

“After that, we’ll have to see. After 30 years as a player and a coach, the adrenalin of the game is still attractive. But I also have a big job as technical director.”

In his native Netherlands, Huistra worked as an assistant manager to Marco van Basten at four-time European champions Ajax when Luis Suarez was the star striker. He has also been head coach of Eredivisie side Groningen, where he launched his professional playing career in the mid-1980s.

His taste for Asia was developed during two seasons playing for Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the mid-1990s and as assistant national coach in Hong Kong in 2001.

But nothing could properly prepare Huistra for the seat-of-the-pants ride that working in the dysfunctional world of Indonesian football brings.

Last weekend, visiting Pahang players were denied entry visas as they changed planes in Jakarta ahead of an AFC Cup game at Indonesian club Persipura Jayapura. Indonesia’s U23 squad are due to fly to Singapore this weekend for the football competition of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, not knowing if a FIFA ban would cut short their participation.

Huistra admits that it hasn’t been the ideal way for a coach to prepare for the second round of AFC World Cup qualifying. “The target is to win both matches, but my challenge is that because the league is frozen, many players haven’t been getting a game and some didn’t even train with their teams,” he said.

“Only Persipura and Persib Bandung, who are in the AFC Cup, are playing matches so the main core of selection will be from those two clubs, plus Andik Vermansyah in Malaysia [Selangor] and Sergio van Dijk in Thailand [Suphanburi FC].”

As a tricky winger, Huistra earned eight caps for Holland from 1988 to 1991, when Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard were his teammates. He never appeared in a major tournament but is proud of the fact that he played in the crucial April 1989 qualifier when a 1-1 draw against West Germany earned Oranje a place at the 1990 World Cup.

The emergence of former Arsenal and Barcelona star Marc Overmars effectively ended Huistra’s international career.

Years earlier when he was a youngster at Groningen, another flashy attacking player made a big impression. His name? Fandi Ahmad, Singapore’s most successful football import and current coach of LionsXII, newly crowned Malaysia FA Cup champions.

“He was very exotic and we became friends because Fandi used to drive me to training as I was just a youngster,” Huistra said. “He was remembered for his orange Opel car, his love of Kool & the Gang music and the Tiger Balm rub he used in the dressing room, which we all ended up trying.”

Huistra visited Fandi in Singapore earlier this year but admits it may be a few more months before he catches up again with his former teammate. “There’s so much work to do here across 34 Indonesian provinces, and I plan to visit them all,” he said.

“We’ve already scheduled 76 coach education courses this year from nothing. That would all stop if the FIFA ban happened, but we have to be prepared for anything. One thing I’ve found out so far is that in Indonesian football you have to be very flexible.”

Jason Dasey is Senior Editor for ESPN FC in Singapore. An ex-World Cup & EPL host, he has also been a CNN and BBC broadcaster.ย @JasonDasey