Southeast Asia Indonesia

What the Hell is Going On at Persipura Jayapura?

One of Indonesian football’s biggest names is in a state of crisis. Thursday’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Borneo FC meant that Persipura Jayapura has lost six Liga 1 Indonesia games on a bounce – something unfathomable from a club of the Mutiara Hitam‘s stature. A name that once struck fear to those who dare to oppose them has now been reduced into a mere cannon fodder lying helplessly in the Liga 1 relegation zone. With head coach Jacksen F. Tiago being shown the door on Friday, the burning question remains in the heads of everyone – what happened to Persipura?

Some may point to the COVID-caused financial crisis that saw longtime sponsors Bank Papua halting their funding in early 2021, which almost sent Persipura hurtling straight to the abyss of bankruptcy.

Others will point at the “bubble-to-bubble” system that the Liga 1 has adopted for this year’s competition, which sees all matches being played out on the island of Java. The notoriously long and tiring journey required for opponents to reach Persipura’s Mandala Stadium overlooking Jayapura’s Yos Sudarso Bay made the Mutiara Hitam a notoriously difficult opponent to deal with in Papua soil. Being deprived of one of their most potent assets this season could contribute to Persipura’s downfall in the 2021/22 season.

But in reality, Persipura’s awful performance this season was a culmination of several years’ worth of slow decline.

Since winning the 2016 Indonesian Soccer Championship A, Persipura – a side who had never finished lower than 2nd in the league table since the advent of the Indonesian professional top-flight in 2008/09 – found themselves struggling to break into the top two places. The Mutiara Hitam finished 5th in 2017 – a very disappointing result by their high standards – before freefalling altogether in 2018 to finish 12th.

A brief revival underneath Jacksen saw the Brazilian lifting Persipura from 15th in the league to finish 3rd in 2019, before COVID-19 robbed Persipura not only of their 2020 season but also their return to continental competitions that came with their 3rd placed finish the year before, with the ASEAN Zone of the 2021 AFC Cup being abolished completely.

During this period Persipura was frequently met with a number of challenges both on and off the field yet the Mutiara Hitam managed to bounce back from them quite admirably, even from a potentially club-ending challenge like their financial crisis earlier this year. Mining giants PT Freeport Indonesia once again came to Persipura’s rescue and gave them the money needed to survive both the AFC Cup (which got cancelled) and the Liga 1, with Bank Papua returning back to the fold shortly afterward. However, this dependency on both Freeport and Bank Papua raised a huge concern – should the Persipura management start to seek more sponsors to keep themselves afloat for years to come in case both Freeport and Bank Papua end their support of the club?

In other words – Persipura shouldn’t depend on both Freeport and Bank Papua as their major source of finance.

While the decision to stick as many sponsors as possible to their shirts was met with much derision and mockery, both Bali United and Persib Bandung managed to reap tons of money financially from their multitude of sponsor deals, while prior to their departure early this season cement manufacturers Bosowa Semen have funded PSM Makassar quite handsomely for years. And when that deal ended, PSM managed to get their act together and land themselves another behemoth deal that doesn’t require them to scattergun sponsors all over their shirts – this time with Japanese automotive giants Honda.

Should Persipura were willing to connect themselves with more sponsors or secure a major sponsorship deal outside the Freeport-Bank Papua duopoly, then they won’t be in a prolonged state of financial turmoil before the start of the season – with Freeport having stepped in to save Persipura in March.

While Persipura managed to somewhat recover themselves from their near club-ending financial crisis, they were unable to recover from a significant blow that they’ve suffered only weeks before the start of the season.

The Mutiara Hitam shockingly terminated the contracts of two of their most experienced players – right-back Yustinus Pae and the man who’s arguably the epitome of Persipura’s identity in modern times, Boaz Solossa. The reason behind the senior duo’s departure was written down as  “indiscipline,” with the two being rumored to have engaged on drunken nights out every day in the Persipura training camp.

The Persipura management went on to state that they have been “too lenient” on both Yustinus and Boaz, with the termination of their contracts being done to give an example to the other Persipura players on what will happen if they don’t abide by the club rules.

In hindsight, they should’ve remained lenient on the duo, maybe try to talk things out with them to fix their indiscipline habits, but not to the point of allowing them to walk out on the club.

The absence of Yustinus and Boaz meant that there are only three senior figures overseeing a largely youthful Persipura squad – Ricardo Salampessy, Ian Kabes, and Nelson Alom. Unfortunately, the trio did not have the same leadership and charisma as the departed Boaz.

His bad-boy tendencies aside, Boaz has proven himself to be arguably the greatest player in Persipura’s history, a capable goalscorer in his youth, and an excellent leader whose skills in inspiring and leading others get better as he became older. Many Persipura players look up to Boaz and his loss has devastated their morale severely.

Without Boaz, Persipura were directionless on the pitch, displaying a brand of soulless football week in week out. When things get tough, there’s nobody on the pitch who could inspire the Persipura players as Boaz did and his skills in unlocking opposition defenses were severely missed as the Mutiara Hitam could only score a measly eight goals from 12 games – the worst in the league this season.

Making things worse are the constant injuries plaguing Persipura’s squad this season, with the likes of Ian, Ricardo, and Ricky Kayame all sitting helplessly from the sidelines nursing injuries as their teammates limped their way to yet another defeat.

And in an ironic twist of fate, it was Boaz who brought an end to Jacksen’s latest tenure as Persipura head coach, his decisive pass being converted spectacularly by Fransisco Torres for Borneo’s only goal in their win over Persipura on Thursday.

It’s not all doom and gloom at the Mutiara Hitam though. Persipura have prided themselves in being capable of nurturing and producing some of the best footballing talent not only in the island of Papua alone, but also Indonesia as a whole. And that proud tradition still continues until this day, with the presence of experienced senators in Ian, Ricardo, and Nelson, mature combatants in Ricky and Yohanes Pahabol, as well as a crop of talented youngsters ready to make their name in Indonesian football, namely Todd Rivaldo Ferre, Gunasar Mandowen, and the Rumakiek brothers David and Ramai, particularly the latter. Persipura have also landed the top-scorer of the recently-concluded National Sports Week (PON) XX, Ricky Cawor, who has been linked with moves to either the Thai League or EFL League One side Oxford United after firing Papua to gold in football at the PON XX.

Persipura also have a cache of talented foreigners this season – Takuya Matsunaga had been decent for Kalteng Putra in 2019 and so far has become the most reliable out of Persipura’s foreigners this season, while Yehven Bokhashvili came to Persipura with experience at both PSS Sleman and Sri Pahang FC. New arrival Hedipo, on the other hand, arrived at Persipura having shown flashes of brilliance in Vietnam with Becamex Binh Duong.

All these lot needs is a charismatic leader who’s willing to put himself in the line for the sake of the team and inspire others to do the same, just like Boaz Solossa. Someone who can pick up his teammates by the collar of their necks and emphasize to them the importance of fighting for the sake of not only the Persipura badge on their shirt but also for the sake of the city of Jayapura and the province of Papua as a whole.

Jacksen has left through the door, but there’s still a long way to go until the end of the season. And to ensure survival, Persipura must not only find a proper head coach to succeed Jacksen, but also someone who can inspire the entire team after the departure of Boaz having sucked the spirit out of the Mutiara Hitam. After all, none of us want to see one of Indonesia’s most successful clubs going down to the Liga 2 in such meek fashion next season. It’ll be a huge loss not only for the Liga 1, but also football in Papua and Indonesia as a whole.