Is it worthwhile to have players that were born outside of Indonesia?

A large number of Indonesian players playing in the Asian Cup were born in other countries. Even if local fans are pleased with the renovation, others fear that bringing in players from other countries will be a short fix for success.

The Indonesian national football team suffered its first Asian Cup defeat in 17 years on Monday, losing 3-1 to Iraq at Qatar’s Ahmed bin Ali Stadium. Even after the last whistle and the two Group D matches that follow, the internal debate about the team’s make-up will continue.

While Iraq’s offense shows promise, Indonesia’s defense has players like Jordi Amat (formerly of Espanyol) and Elkan Baggott (now of Ipswich Town, an English club on the verge of joining the English Premier League). Marc Klok and Rafael Struick, who were both born in the Netherlands, may be seen farther up the field. All of them have just became naturalized internationals, making them eligible to represent the Southeast Asian nation.

In the fifth edition of the tournament, South Korean national team coach Shin Tae-yong is aiming to take his 146th-ranked squad, which is widely seen as one of Asia’s hidden powerhouses, past the group stage for the first time. The squad includes seven players from nations other than the world’s fourth most populous. Shin said that he looked for characteristics including a pleasant attitude, the ability to contribute to the team, and a history of Indonesian heritage while evaluating players that were born outside of Indonesia.

Simon McMenemy, who coached the Indonesian national team from 2018 to 2019, may have some insight on his successor’s choice to use naturalized players.

Newcomers provide fresh perspectives.

In an interview with DW, McMenemy addressed the topic of potential international players boosting standards. “The Indonesian domestic league is not yet strong enough to go up against the best in Asia, but there is a chance when using players from bigger and better leagues.”

The coach also reaps additional rewards. Since the players are already at their respective clubs, it would be very difficult for a national team coach to implement any changes by focusing just on the local league. Everyone wins when international players help coaches execute change and locals learn a lot from them.

Other Asian countries have also tried similar tactics, with mixed results. Like the Philippines and Malaysia, China has had little to no return on investment from having Brazilians who have become citizens play for Chinese clubs. On the other hand, Malaysia and the Philippines have definitely benefited from foreign aid. South Korea’s association attempted to naturalize Brazilian playmaker Eninho in 2012—the first foreign-born player—but they were heavily criticized and failed.

Divergent views exist among Indonesians.

“It’s a 50:50 situation here,” as admirer Putera Kusumatoro of Jakarta told DW. “Some fans think that it’s good because the naturalized players have the right to represent Indonesia as they have Indonesian blood, but some of them think it’s just a process to achieve instant success, especially because Indonesia’s grassroots system is not prioritized.”

Tommy Welly and Akmal Marhali, two prominent Indonesian analysts, have questioned the federation’s intentions, wondering whether the nationalization of players born abroad is only a temporary solution for the Indonesian national team.

Threats confronting homegrown artists

“In my opinion, this is a matter that requires PSSI’s attention, especially in relation to grassroots initiatives and youth development,” said Adhika Wicaksana, a former commercial officer at PSSI, in an interview with DW. “Excessive focus on foreign-born players risks neglecting the vital need for improved infrastructure and training to develop local talent as a long-term investment.”

There are also broader issues that aren’t exclusive to football. After Wicaksana spoke, “It makes one wonder what we mean when we say ‘Indonesian,'” the speaker said. “If language is the primary determinant, can someone like a UK-based content creator fluent in Indonesian and Javanese be considered Indonesian?”

However, if Indonesia adopts the procedure as part of its long-term economic plan, then it becomes an ideal policy to attract skilled workers from outside, claims McMenemy.

“When bringing in naturalized players from outside, you have to plan one or two years before, and knowing the kind of coach Shin is, I am sure he has a strong plan,” as per the strategist from Britain. You should absolutely bring them over if you have the chance to play against them in training camps or friendly matches. Problems could emerge if you bring a foreign team member over who has just gotten a passport, doesn’t know anybody, and is on a foreign team.

With players born outside of the Philippines, McMenemy accomplished great things in his 2010 season as head coach. What he learned from this is that with the help of the international players, a strong showing in the Asian Cup might pave the way to greater things.

Having accomplished nothing

Ultimately, “Indonesia is crying out for success,” according quote McMenemy. They are four times bigger than other Southeast Asian teams, yet no matter how dedicated they are, they can’t seem to win. As is typical with many locations, visitors can’t stop gushing about the incredible possibilities there. But if external factors are necessary for success, this can set the stage for much bigger things.

“Then you get the whole country behind you, and in Indonesia, that can be a powerful thing.”

Even with the additions, opinions on the Red and Whites’ prospects of making it to the Round of 16 are still split. Competitors of the group Among Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam is highly regarded, while four-time champion Japan is perhaps the best team in the world at the moment. In 2007, Iraq won the Asian championship.

“Head coach Shin has targeted a draw against Iraq, a win against Vietnam, and a loss against Japan,” stated Putera. The most crucial game is the first one against Iraq. A draw would give us a lot of confidence for our encounter against Vietnam.

Wicaksana is less optimistic about Indonesia’s prospects of winning the match because to their recent struggles, since they have won just twice in their past four matches.

“Recent defeats have exposed the lack of quality and depth within the team,” Wicaksana said. “Given the team’s youthfulness, securing at least one point and scoring two goals would represent a respectable performance.”

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