Southeast Asia Indonesia

OPINION: Time for a Reality Check, Indonesian Football Fans – AFC Competitions Aren’t Bali United’s Priority

While Bali United’s poor continental performances throughout recent years was a subject of infamy within the Indonesian football fraternity, the reveal that both the club’s state-of-the-art training center as well as Bali United’s trip to Australia for their AFC Cup match against Central Coast Mariners was personally bankrolled by owner Pieter Tanuri in October puts the Serdadu Tridatu‘s AFC performances into a new perspective. 

Speaking in a discussion between himself, head coach Stefano Cugurra Teco, and supporters’ representatives back in mid-October, Pieter revealed that since Bali United’s finances weren’t sufficient enough to support the construction of the club’s new training center, funding for the facility’s development has been coming out of his own pocket.

“The construction of the Bali United training center used my own personal funds, because I know the club’s finances are not yet capable of building that facility,” said Pieter, as quoted by a series of tweets posted by Bali United fan account @Bali_Football, “In other clubs, the construction of a training center was not completed because their supporters were much more demanding for results, as a result the club management chose to buy expensive players, that’s why the training center was not completed.”

Later in the same month, pundit L. Musaddad A. Sadat posted this on his Twitter in the buildup towards Bali United’s AFC Cup clash with Australia’s Central Coast Mariners in Gosford, “Just read the “manifest” of Bali United players who left for Australia. A total of 35 people went (players, coaching staff, officials & management) to Sydney for the AFC Cup. This costs almost half a million alone, kudos and respect to the management of Serdadu Tridatu who is very ready for these kinds of situation.”

Now, picture this. The AFC Cup’s current format – which saw teams playing opponents from their same region first before facing-off against those from other regions – was drafted with the intention of preventing teams from splurging too much money in travel costs within the early stages of the competition. Teams such as Persipura Jayapura, Sriwijaya FC, Arema Indonesia, Persibo Bojonegoro and Semen Padang had to travel to Hong Kong, India, the Maldives, and even the Middle East for their away matches within the old format of the AFC Cup, while the current format will only see the aforementioned teams travel to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, or the Philippines within the early stages of the competition, before going to far-flung destinations in the later stages.

Last year’s AFC Cup runners-up Kuala Lumpur City had to travel to both India and Uzbekistan for their knockout matches after conquering the ASEAN zone. The Malaysian club were thankfully spared from yet another long-haul flight for their final match against Oman’s Al-Seeb, which was played at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

If a trip to Australia costed around half a million Rupiah alone, imagine the funds that Pieter had to fork out should Bali United advance to the later stages of the AFC Cup…and combine that to the money that he has already spent for the construction of the club’s training center.

You see where I’m going here, right?

Yes, Pieter Tanuri is a wealthy man. But we all have to be realistic here. He doesn’t have the endless funds that Tunku Ismail Idris, the head honcho of Johor Darul Ta’zim, has at his disposal. He also doesn’t have the same wealth and resources as Newin Chidchob or Nualphan Lamsam, the owners of Buriram United and Port FC respectively. Yet, Bali United, JDT, and Buriram were viewed as the golden standard of football clubs at their respective nations.

Pieter is also very well-aware of the current state of Indonesian football at the grassroots level. Sure there are plenty of football academies scattered all across Indonesia, but the development of said academies were often hampered by the lack of proper resources and facilities. More often than not, the rising stars of Indonesian football only came from select academies, and their skills and level of play are still underneath other ASEAN young stars such as Suphanat Mueanta (Thailand), Arif Aiman (Malaysia), Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam), and Ilhan Fandi (Singapore).

There’s also the unsustainable nature of bringing in ready-made, high-caliber players without a proper safety net of funds. The cases of Sriwijaya FC and Mitra Kukar were prime examples of these, with the two teams bringing in star-studded squads only to go on downward spirals once their financial backers bailed from the club. Both clubs were relegated from the Liga 1, with Sriwijaya stagnating in the Liga 2 and Mitra Kukar suffering an even more harrowing fate, tumbling down into the Liga 3 and having to sit out the 2023 season due to lack of preparations.

With these two in mind, Pieter and the Bali United management devised a long-term plan to ensure a sustained success for the Serdadu Tridatu. Their first team contained several figures with plenty of experience in the Liga 1 as well as the ASEAN region. This was done in order to maintain competitiveness within the Liga 1, ensuring that Bali United would rise up into becoming one of Indonesia’s best clubs in no time. While at the same time, Bali United invested massively into their youth academy and training center, determined to create their own stars from scratch instead of landing big-name players and spending unsustainably.

The process was slow and arduous, but a number of academy graduates have made their way into the Bali United first team – the likes of Kadek Arel, Komang Tri, Kadek Dimas, I Made Tito Wiratama, I Gede Agus Mahendra, and most recently I Gede Sunu have started to establish himself in Teco’s plans, with plans for them to gradually taking over the reins from their experienced senators, the likes of Novri Setiawan, Ardi Idrus, Ilija Spasojevic, Jajang Mulyana, and Fadil Sausu. There’s also Andre Pangestu, who made his way into the Indonesia U-17 squad for the recently-concluded FIFA U-17 World Cup.

But with Bali United doing so well in the domestic front, came the inevitable reality that the club had to represent Indonesia in continental competitions – namely the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup. And while the international experience would further enhance Bali United as a whole as well as bringing pride and honor to the people of Indonesia at the same time, in the end Pieter’s financial resources are in fact, finite. It’s a huge dilemma, really – go all out in AFC competitions and risk the inevitable pitfalls of unsustainable spending, or ensure that your players have a taste of AFC competitions while at the same time efficiently allocating your resources for the bigger picture?

In the end, whether you like it or not, the latter provides the better option. It’s better to fail now but succeed later once the academy graduates had established themselves as high-caliber players at their prime, than reaping short-term successes but in the process blowing your entire budget on it and thus leading your club to financial ruin. This dilemma, though, can be mitigated should both the club’s sponsors and the federation show as much commitment towards the cause as Pieter did, and shoulder the costs together with the club owner instead of leaving him to pay for everything, especially with the training center project still ongoing. After all, Bali United are representing Indonesia on the international stage, right?

So, Indonesian football fans, temper your expectation on Bali United. As long as the club’s still focused on their long-term plan, don’t expect them to do anything in AFC competitions unless they receive the proper support that they needed. But give them time – the Serdadu Tridatu will shine on the international stage once the time is right. And not only that – they could contribute more to the Indonesia national team within the future!