The Jakarta Post
Foreign soccer players bring talent and a dash of excitement to the Indonesian leagues, but what do they get up to away from the pitch?
Playing professional soccer has taken Africans Brima Pepito Sanusie and Jaques Ngo'o Evrard on a journey halfway around the world, where they now both play for Persitara Jakarta Utara FC in the Indonesian First Division, the tier below the Indonesian Premier League (LPI).
Twenty-seven-year-old Pepito is the league's joint top scorer. He's spent six years in Indonesia, playing soccer for teams in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan; Malang, East Java; Bogor, West Java; and now Jakarta.
Pepito has also been capped six times by his country, Sierra Leone.
After realizing he was too good to toil in the Sierra Leonean leagues ' where he said the style of play was very physical ' Pepito headed to Vietnam to ply his trade.
Once there, he began to hear good things about Indonesian soccer. 'A friend told me the Indonesian league was better, more exciting, and that I could come here and just explode and use my pace,' he said.
In 2008, a friend connected Pepito with a Cameroonian agent, who in turn got him a deal with Persiba Balikpapan, a team that was then playing in the Indonesian Super League (ISL), the top flight of Indonesian soccer.
However, like a stranger in a strange land, things weren't easy when he first arrived.
'I arrived in Kalimantan with a suitcase and a dictionary, with no Indonesian whatsoever,' recounts Pepito. 'It wasn't easy communicating with people at first, but I picked up the language from TV and just went from there. Now I get by with the basic stuff quite easily.'
Pepito says he was also grateful for his teammates in helping him cope ' especially Australian midfielder Robbie Gaspar, who has played for several Indonesian clubs.
In his free time, Pepito hangs out with the local players on the Persitara team regularly, and can often be found playing futsal with them and local residents in North Jakarta.
'The locals are really happy when I play with them,' the striker says. 'They even invite me into their homes for dinner after the game. I guess they're just happy to have a foreign player visit their house.'
Pepito certainly seems at home with Indonesian cuisine, which he says is very similar to the fare served up back in his home city of Freetown. He loves bakso ayam (chicken meatballs) and Padang restaurants.
The 188-centimeter striker towers over many an Indonesian defense, but his imposing frame hides a compassionate heart that is driven by his faith.
'Most of my time outside soccer is spent helping the ministries of my church in Jakarta,' Pepito says. 'We try to help homeless people in the city as well as coaching poorer kids at a soccer school.'
Pepito also does his fair share of traveling, as Persitara competes against teams based in places ranging from Aceh to Semarang, Central Java.
'Travelling with the squad is a crazy experience.' Pepito laughs. 'Sometimes I just want to rest on the bus, but the players love singing as we travel. They get up to all kinds of practical jokes, but its all harmless.'
According to Pepito, foreign players are usually paid more than Indonesian players ' but in return the Indonesian clubs expect more.
'Foreign players are expected to do double the work of local players,' said Pepito. 'The club depends on us more. It depends on our knowledge, experience, technique, tactics ' and it expects us to give these things to the team. I guess you could say we're kind of like teachers.'
Pepito is accompanied on the pitch by Jacques Ngo'o Evrard from Cameroon, who at 28 is a lynchpin of the Persitara defense.
Evrard has been on his own Southeast Asian soccer odyssey, playing for Balestier Khalsa FC, Woodlands Wellington FC and the now-defunct Sporting Afrique, all in the S-League, Singapore's top division.
In 2009, Evrard moved to Perseman Manokwari in West Papua and then made his way to Jakarta.
'I live in BSD [Bumi Serpong Damai] city [South Tangerang] and I have a lot of Indonesian friends here, so it's cool,' says Evrard, who sports a blonde Mohawk and a French accent. 'There's a lot of parks and its more relaxed than in the center of Jakarta, where there's just too much traffic.'
Like Pepito, Evrard heads back home at the end of every season, but in the meantime ' when he's not attempting to ruin the days of opposing strikers ' he's hanging out with his girlfriend, swimming, catching an action movie or dining wherever he can find an Italian restaurant.
Evrard, too, has his local favorites, saying that gado gado (boiled vegetable salad in peanut sauce) and soto ayam (chicken soup) hit the spot.
Off the pitch, Evrard admits that he has encountered racism in Indonesia, particularly in Java, but says he can still see himself staying here if the rival domestic leagues can overcome their recent differences.
'It's good playing soccer here, but there's been many problems between the LPI and the ISL,' Evrard says. 'But I think next season, everything will be OK.'
But in Pepito's eyes, Indonesia's domestic league problems ' with two top-tier leagues vying for recognition as the official league ' have already hurt his own career.
'Since we have two top tier leagues in Indonesia, the soccer here is perceived from outside as being less competitive, which makes it more difficult for me to be considered for my national team,' he said.
Pepito and Evrard are now preparing for the end-of-season playoffs where, if their team is successful, they will win promotion to the big time ' the top tier of Indonesian soccer ' although in classic Indonesian soccer fashion, the true form of next season's league structure remains unclear.
If the domestic league troubles persist, Evrard says he will look once more to Singapore to ply his trade, whereas Pepito is philosophical about his future.
'My long term aim was play in Europe, but so far that hasn't happened, so I'll leave everything to God to decide. If God wants me here, this is where I'll stay.'
As the sun sets on another season of domestic dualism, it seems local fans aren't the only ones waiting in hope for a better soccer future.
Photos by Aleey Ramones, Brima Pepito Sanusie
Your premium period will expire in 0 day(s)close x
Renew your subscription to get unlimited access