Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hard Work Trumps Youth for an Indonesian in Spain, Arthur Irawan.

Indonesia is no place for an ambitious young footballer to learn his trade.

The domestic league is a mess at the best of times, with clubs having difficulties paying players’ salaries and bonuses; training methods from the Stone Age, with coaches, often under pressure from club management, prioritizing stamina over ball skill; and appalling match officials occasionally under pressure to ensure bias toward a particular team.

Many clubs have a strong manager who is often a political figure using football as a vehicle to boost his standing, and they use their influence to interfere with the football club at all levels, even to the extent of telling the coach which players to pick and which to drop.

Poor infrastructure does nothing to develop a player’s technical ability; most pitches are owned by local governments who spend nothing on the upkeep, meaning players must perform on pot-holed surfaces, risking injury.

All in all, it’s a disheartening landscape for a young player to make an impact. And yet despite the problems at home, very few players move overseas. A handful have had short spells in Malaysia, but high salaries combined with the strong pull of family mean many find it easier to just stay home and bite the bullet.

Against this background there was therefore some surprise when it was announced RCD Espanyol in Spain’s La Liga had signed a young Indonesian player.

Arthur Irawan signed with the Barcelona-based team in January after impressing at the youth level and was recently called up for training with the first team ahead of a friendly against Egyptian club Al Ahly.

The reaction in his homeland was one of Arthur who? For sure, his background marks him as different from most of his compatriots. While they learned their trade with local sekolah sepak bola (football schools), Arthur was studying at an international school in Jakarta.

Despite only being with the Spanish club a short time, Arthur has impressed with his attitude. Espanyol Under-18 coach Fran Navarro, who has seen the youngster progress, said, “Arthur’s got great versatility and sometimes he’s had to play as second striker and has demonstrated not only his speed but his discipline.”

He added that it was “very easy to work with him because he always wants to learn and it has enabled much progress in recent months.”

With several first-choice first-team players unavailable, Arthur was called up by coach Mauricio Pochettino, and of course the Surabaya-born defender, who has also played as a second striker, was left feeling very proud.

“It was an amazing experience to train with the first team. We’re talking internationals and guys who’ve played dozens of games in La Liga. It was an unbelievable feeling,” the 19-year-old said.

Indeed, so excited was Arthur after that first training session that his agent, Paul Hodgetts, said he couldn’t get him back to earth. To add to the excitement, legendary Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani was the first to congratulate the youngster after the training session.

Arthur is one of a handful of players from Indonesia being given a chance in Europe. CS Vise, a second-division team in Belgium, has Syamsir Alam, Alfin Tuasalamony, Yericho Christiantoko and Yandi Munawar.

Perhaps, finally, recognition that for any promising young player to fully develop their talent they need to escape the constricting domestic environment.

Training with the first team for an end-of-season friendly does not mean Arthur has made the breakthrough. It does mean that he has been noticed but his future development is still down to him.

And he knows this.



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