Heels of Fortune
Florence Nathania, WEEKENDER | Thu, 10/27/2011 12:49 PM |
A soccer academy has set out to find budding Indonesian soccer stars.
On a sunny Sunday, nearly 60 boys gathered at the hockey pitch of Gelora Bung Karno sports complex in Senayan, Central Jakarta. With their families looking on, the boys were excited to play in the Liverpool FC Indonesia Soccer School, which chose the hockey ground for training because its surface is more even than many soccer pitches.
“Today is our busiest day so far,” says head coach Paul Barratt. “We started quite well in Ramadan, and this is our first weekend back today.”
The 23-year-old coach knows what it is like to be a young player with dreams of being the best. He is a graduate of the English club’s youth team, which he joined at age 14. He was also the “man of the match” when Liverpool FC won the FA Youth Cup in 2006. But when a spot on the reserve team did not lead to bigger things, he got his coaching badge instead. The amiable Barratt is in Jakarta for a 12-month term, working with five other coaches.
He praised the kids’ enthusiasm, but adds that there is work to be done. “At the moment, [they] just need a bit more knowledge of the game, how to play football properly, like in a team, shape, awareness, and a bit more movement … the knowledge seems a little bit behind England.”
Bringing the name Liverpool FC means they do things the Liverpool way.
“Liverpool is a lot of passing the ball, moving, keeping different angles, so we just try to do it a different way,” Barratt says.
The question for any youngster involved in sport is whether it is what they want to do, or whether they are living the dreams of their parents. The boys in the school appeared to be the ones calling the shots in wanting to improve their skills.
Tobias Hartmann, 12, moved to the Liverpool-run school after trying another coaching program under his favorite soccer club. Fan allegiances are one thing, but the boy was more interested in what the programs had to offer.
“It’s enjoyable here,” he says. “There [the previous school] we had to get them, but here they try to get us.”
Parent Roberto Nicolin also experienced youth training at AC Venice in his homeland of Italy. “That guy is professional, and the training is well structured,” he says, pointing to Barratt.
He is happy to see the arrival of more professional training in Indonesia, although there is a ways to go from his own experience.
“In Italy, kids starting from 13 or 14 years old have to train six hours every day, and then they will have a match every weekend. My mom was even given a recipe of what I should eat every day. Here the kids may get good training, but then it would become useless when they eat nasi goreng afterward.”
The beautiful game, as he points out, is an expensive one in Indonesia. For students aged from 6 to 18 years in Liverpool FC Soccer School, the enrolment fee is Rp 1.75 million, with monthly fees ranging from Rp 750,000 to Rp 1.6 million depending on the weekly training sessions.
“I feel it’s more the business side here,” Nicolin says. “In Italy, soccer schools are cheap, some are free. Here, only kids with affluent parents can join. So there is a selection by money, not by quality.”
Play it Forward
Soccer is no longer merely a local sport, but a huge international business. Clubs have moved beyond their national leagues to become part of the world, with their star players’ names and statistics familiar to fans the world over.
And those fans are now customers of the soccer brands. That is particularly true of Asia; Guillaume Bodet and Nicolas Chanavat point out in Building Global Football Brand Equity – Lessons from The Chinese Market that the continent, holding 60 percent of the world’s population, has become a promising region for major rival clubs to compete not only on the field but also in the market.
Take Everton FC. In 2003, Chinese mobile company Keijian became the first Chinese brand to sponsor an English club when it sealed a deal with Everton. Manchester United’s contract with Air Asia in 2006 authorized use of the club’s crest and tails on the low-cost airline’s aircraft.
Asian players, such as Korean Park Ji-Sung, who plays for Manchester United, are going international, and Asia is happy to host famous players and teams. Recently, Cesc Fabregas, Rio Ferdinand and Giovanni van Bronckhorst visited Indonesia. There are also huge fan bases in Indonesia: The official Liverpool fan club in Indonesia boasts more than 100,000 members.
Soccer schools run by distinguished foreign clubs, which promise their professionalism and experience, have become part of the booming interest in the sport. Arsenal Indonesian Soccer School was opened in September 2007, followed by the Liverpool school.
While the schools may be considered a middle-class phenomenon, Liverpool is also renowned for its academy, where selected talented players receive free schooling and soccer instruction in the hope of becoming a top player. Liverpool FC is recognized as having one of the world’s best academies, which has graduated such players as Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher.
The Liverpool FC branded junior league will be the main scouting ground to find the best 20 young talents for the academy in Jakarta. The league will start in 2012, before school is back in session for 2012–13, with games in Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya and Makassar. Any soccer school may participate in the competition. However, from this October, when another Liverpool FC coach arrives to share the workload, Barratt and his colleague will start compiling a database of prospective candidates scouted at various soccer activities.
“That’s our ultimate dream – to coach or find a boy through the whole of Indonesia who will be good enough to play for Liverpool FC. Hopefully we can find a boy or two to send back to Liverpool, have a trial and hopefully get into their academy system,” says Barratt.
The selected players will receive a full scholarship, funded by Liverpool FC, to study in partner schools in Jakarta.
“The boys will go to school in the morning, and every afternoon they will be coached by Liverpool FC,” Barratt explains.
CEO of Britcham Chris Wren, who is the liaison officer for Liverpool in Indonesia, stated that the academy focuses on more than just soccer. Students will be expected to understand they have a responsibility to maintain good grades.
“Part of the non-classroom coaching will not just be kicking the ball around, but it will be turning them into strong agile people,” he says.
There will also be instruction on life plans and alternative careers, such as coaching or sports science. This aspect is based on the understanding that only a few hopefuls make it to the big leagues. Barratt knows that from his own experience. He hopes that if they kids cannot make it all the way to Merseyside, they will have the opportunity to play elsewhere in Europe or at a club here, and still make a good living. It’s a start at least.