Return of The Garuda (Part One)

For nearly two years, Indonesian football was in a comatose state. Years of mismanagement, political conflicts, and other issues off the pitch finally resulted in exclusion from international football.

Last week, the Garuda squad made its much awaited return from international football exile in a friendly match against arch-rival Malaysia.

Here’s how the story unraveled.


Indonesia went out in the group stage of the AFF Cup, a regional tournament for countries in Southeast Asia. It was the second straight time Indonesia had failed to make it past the group stage of the tournament, after similar result in 2012.

Indonesia opened their campaign with a 2–2 draw against co-hosts Vietnam, before falling to Philippines, once considered to be one of the weaker teams in the region, 4–0 in the second game. The 5–1 victory against Laos in the last game proved to be mere consolation.

Little do people know at the time, that this was to be Indonesia’s final competitive game until 22 months later.

Indonesia’s players celebrating their 5–1 win over Laos. This was Indonesia’s last competitive game until 2016. (Photo credit: AFF Suzuki Cup)


The domestic professional football league, Indonesia Super League, was set to start in early 2015. Just days before kickoff, it was postponed by the government, specifically by the Sports and Youth Ministry for another two weeks (For more details on the postponement of ISL, see the article below).

This decision was taken by Sports Minister, Imam Nahrawi, after recommendations from an ad-hoc team tasked with improving Indonesian’s football structure and Indonesia’s Professional Sports Body (BOPI). Earlier in January, two teams, Persebaya and Arema Cronus, was barred from competing in the league for failure to comply with administrative procedure. Both clubs were denied license from BOPI.

Basic administrative failures by the teams and negligence by the league had effectively ended the season before it started.

But it was only the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come.


A further postponement followed in April, six weeks from the original kick-off date of the 2015 season. But this was only the first blow for PSSI.

A few weeks later, Minister Nahrawi took a drastic measure to freeze the activities of Indonesia’s soccer governing body, PSSI.

Imam Nahrawi, Minister of Sports and Youth. (Photo credit: CNN Indonesia)

The ministry had issued numerous warnings to PSSI, insisting that Arema and Persebaya be denied entry from the league. PSSI and the league resisted and effectively ignored the ministry’s warnings which led to the sanction.

A fortnight later, in early May, FIFA warned that it will suspend Indonesia’s membership if the government continues its interference in PSSI’s affairs. The minister, backed by the president, Joko Widodo, was unmoved in his stance. Both believe that the sanction is necessary to compel PSSI to conduct reforms and improve the national team’s achievements.

“It doesn’t matter if we are absent from international competitions for a while as long as we can win big in the future.”
Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo, speaking about the imminent sanction from FIFA.

On May 30, FIFA suspends Indonesia’s membership for government interference. On top of the non-existent league, Indonesian clubs and national teams are not allowed to compete in any official matches and sanctioned tournaments.

Without kicking a single ball, Indonesia’s hope of reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia and 2019 Asian Cup comes to an end.


The absence of a domestic league was filled by several tournaments held in 2015 and early 2016. Involving clubs from either the top division or the second division, these tournaments was the only alternative for the public longing for some semblance of domestic competition.

The first of such tournament was The Independence Cup (Piala Kemerdekaan), held in August. This was followed by The President’s Cup, The General Sudirman’s Cup, and The Bhayangkara Cup. These patriotic sounding tournaments, in general, were able to generate interests and revive the enthusiasm of the fans.

Persia Banding, winner of Piala Kemerdekaan (Photo credit: Four Four Two Indonesia)

Unfortunately, the end was nowhere in sight for the fans. Instead, another scandal threaten to rock an already sinking boat.


Let’s revisit the year 2007 for a moment.

Back then, PSSI’s president, Nurdin Halid won re-election for a second term at the helm of the country’s football governing body. Just a few months later, he was jailed for his involvement in a corruption case.

Fast forward to 2016, and history had repeated itself.

In March 2016, La Nyalla Mattalitti, PSSI’s chairman, was named as a suspect in a corruption case dating back to 2012. La Nyalla, in his other capacity as head of East Java’s Chamber of Commerce, had misused a 5-billion-rupiah grant provided by the regional government to purchase stocks of a regional bank’s IPO.

La Nyalla Mattalitti, currently standing trial over suspicion of corruption. (Photo credit: CNN Indonesia)

It doesn’t stop there as La Nyalla then fled to Singapore. What ensued was a two-and-a-half month of frantic effort by the court and government in order to bring him back to Indonesia to stand trial.

In May, La Nyalla was deported by the Singapore government and is currently standing trial. He has since resigned from his post with PSSI set to elect a new leader next month.

Exclusion from international football, corruption charges against top ranking officials, these are the facts of Indonesian football.

Things could have not looked bleaker.

APRIL 2016: PSSI 3 — SPORTS MINISTRY 0 (2nd Leg)

Throughout 2015 and parts of 2016, PSSI and the Sports Ministry was involved in a lengthy legal battle. Now the drama shifted from the pitch to the court room.

PSSI fired the first shot claiming that the Sports Ministry’s had no right to freeze the organization and that the decree issued in April 2015 must be revoked. The court ruled in favor of PSSI, which to no one’s surprise, was appealed by the Sports Ministry.

In October 2015 the subsequent appeal was denied, as the court reinforced the decision of the lower court in it’s original ruling back in April 2015. Undeterred, the Sports Ministry launched another appeal, this time to the Supreme Court.

In March 2016, the Supreme Court ruled, once again, in favor of PSSI. Resolution seems near, but there’s still a long way to go before order is restored.

Tomorrow: Part two of “Return of The Garuda” - As a new league is born, will Indonesian football change its face? Or will it be a case of the “same old, same old”?

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