Southeast Asia Indonesia

From Winless in Four to Unbeaten in Nine – How Slow-Burning Singo Edan Are Challenging for Liga 1 Honors

Having failed to win any of their first four Liga 1 Indonesia games in the 2021/22 season, Arema FC have steadily found their footing and crept their way into the top three. The Singo Edan are currently unbeaten in nine games, keeping clean sheets in five of those, and they found themselves 3rd in the Liga 1 table before their Matchweek 13 game against PS Barito Putera on Tuesday. A win over the Laskar Antasari would allow Arema to keep up pace with leaders Bhayangkara FC and 2nd placed Persib Bandung, as well as keeping both 4th placed Bali United and 5th placed PSIS Semarang at arm’s length.

The start of the 2021/22 season saw Arema receiving a huge financial boost following their takeover by Malang-based transport and skincare mogul Gilang Widya Pramana. However, despite this significant financial injection, Arema did not sign any big-name players in pre-season – as they did in their Galactico era between 2013 and 2016. Gilang invested his money wisely, using it to enhance Arema’s facilities – such as providing the club with new living quarters and a new bus – as well as motivating his players by providing financial bonuses with each win.

Portuguese head coach Eduardo Almeida was tasked with leading Arema this season – a man who was relegated from the Liga 1 back in 2019 with Semen Padang and posted a mid-table finish in the 2017 Liga Super Malaysia season with Melaka United. Not exactly someone who could set the Indonesian top-flight alight, but his experience with Southeast Asian football – having taken charge of Laos’ Lanexang United and Thailand’s Ubon United to go with his tenures at Melaka and Semen Padang – could help Arema significantly in the 2021/22 season.

Eduardo used his connections to secure Arema’s foreigners for this season. The team has been pining for a deadly goal-scoring poacher to continue the legacy set by the likes of Emaleu Serge, Noh Alam Shah, Cristian Gonzales, and Beto Goncalves in years past, as well as a competent goalkeeper that could match the caliber of Kurnia Meiga, who had to leave the game early due to health problems.

Using his contacts at the Portuguese leagues, Eduardo managed to scoop in Vilafranquese duo Carlos Fortes and Adilson Maringa, the former being a Portuguese striker and the latter a Brazilian goalkeeper. Another Portuguese, defender Sergio Silva, was brought in from Feirense to shore up the backline, while Renshi Yamaguchi, with whom Eduardo had worked alongside at Ubon in 2019, was drafted in to enhance Arema’s midfield.

As for the local players, Eduardo retained a good bulk of Arema’s squad from the abolished 2020 season, with Hendro Siswanto, Syaiful Indra Cahya, Alfin Tuasalamony, and Utam Rusdiana being the notable exits and Diego Michels, Feby Eka Putra, and academy graduates Bramntio Ramadhan and Hamzah Titofani being the notable new additions. Key players such as Dedik Setiawan, Hanif Sjahbandi, Kushedya Hari Yudo, Johan Alfarizi, Dave Mustaine, Rizky Dwi Febrianto, Bagas Adi Santoso, and Dendi Santoso were successfully retained.

Arema started the season off slow. A 1-1 draw with PSM Makassar kicked off the campaign, before another 1-1 draw with Bhayangkara FC ensued. An 80th minute Juninho winner condemned Arema to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of PSS Sleman, and it was at that point a small minority of Arema fans began to doubt whether Eduardo was the right man to lead them through the season.

PSIS became the fourth team to deny Arema all three points with their 0-0 draw, and at that point, the Singo Edan were the only team in the Liga 1 to have yet to pick up three points this season. However, that draw turned out to be the turning point for Arema, as it was the start of Adilson’s 5-match clean sheet streak.

As Adilson cemented himself as one of the best shot-stoppers in the Liga 1 this season, the Singo Edan started winning games after games, edging out Persipura Jayapura 1-0 before thrashing Persela Lamongan 3-0. Persija Jakarta were beaten 1-0, before Persiraja Banda Aceh were seen off with a 2-0 win.

During this run, Fortes – who had not scored in Arema’s first four games – began to flourish to life, scoring five times in that run of four wins in a row.

Persita Tangerang brought an end to both Arema’s winning run and Adilson’s clean sheet streak, forcing the Singo Edan to a 2-2 draw, but Arema were still a difficult opposition to contend with. Madura United were the Malang-based side’s next victim, being beaten 2-1 thanks to a Kushedya goal and a last-minute strike from Rizky, before Persebaya Surabaya forced Arema to a 2-2 draw in the Super East Java Derby, a game where Arema felt that they should’ve won. Fortes, who did not find the net in the Persita and Madura United games, managed to regain his shooting boots with a goal against Persebaya, before notching his seventh goal of the season in Arema’s most recent game, a 3-2 win over Persik Kediri.

And before they know it, Arema found themselves in the Liga 1 top five, rubbing shoulders with the star-studded squads of Bhayangkara, Persib, and Bali United, as well as fellow underdogs PSIS.

When asked about how he had transformed Arema from failing to win any of their first four games into a tough, stubborn side that’s very difficult to beat, Eduardo had this to say, as quoted from Surya Malang, Tribunnews and, “We always train every day and every player is doing his best. What we must do to retain this excellent form is to focus ourselves on the match at hand, from one game to the next. I’m doing my job and the players are doing their jobs too.”

“Because we are a team, we must work together to ensure that we will get three points in each game,” Eduardo continued, “There’s no secret to our excellent form. Just constant training and always focusing our attention in each match.”

Consistency and hard work are the two components that Arema have been embracing this season underneath Eduardo’s watchful eyes. What they lack in star power and big names, Arema made it up with their tenacity and spirit. Everything’s going upwards at the Singo Edan camp these days and should they retain the form that they are right now, clinching their first Indonesian top-flight title since the 2009/10 season is a real possibility for Arema.