He has been labeled as one of Indonesia’s most talented football players. And with twenty goals in twenty games for Indonesia’s U-19 squad it isn’t hard to see why. He grew up in the city of Magelang(Central Java) so by now you know who we are talking about right? We are obviously talking about Bagus Kahfi.
In 2019 he joined the prestigious Garuda Select program. A program designed by the PSSI to develop and nurture Indonesian football players under the supervision of former England internationals Des Walker and Dennis Wise. With their guidance, Bagus Kahfi improved his skills and got the attention of several European clubs and eventually signed a contract at FC Utrecht’s youth academy. The Dutch Eredivisie team who accommodated Indonesian internationals like Stefano Lillypaly, Marc Klok, and Irfan Bachdim in the past.
The rumors about his transfer to FC Utrecht go a lot of media attention within Indonesia and as soon as the transfer was confirmed, it stirred the social media channels of the club into a meltdown, as overly proud and enthusiastic Indonesians flooded their channels. The hope of Indonesian football fans to see a fellow countryman make it doesn’t come as a surprise. The country has one of the biggest populations on the planet. Loves nothing more than a game of football, but only a handful of Indonesian footballers ever made it to European competitions.
Luckily Bagus remains realistic and down to earth under all the attention. Or as he puts it: ‘Social Media isn’t real life’. We had a call with Bagus Kahfi to discuss his opinion on Indonesian football culture and the experience of playing in Europe.
Bagus Kahfi’s life outside the pitch
By now nearly everyone in Indonesia knows Bagus from his performances with Garuda Select and the under-19 squad. But what are his interests outside of the green field?
Hey Bagus, How’s life?
All good, lovely weather isn’t it?
You already start to sound like a real Dutchmen by saying that. How do you spend your days off the pitch?
I spend a lot of time playing games like PUBG on my mobile. I can play it all day everyday. It’s nice to focus on that game and play with friends from back home. It’s a nice way to stay in touch with my friends.
You are not the only one who likes PUBG. How about music? What kind of music are you into?
Haha well I don’t know if you know dangdut? I love dangdut so much I listen to it so often. Besides that Justin Bieber and Travis Scott. But dangdut remains the sound of my country.
I expected something like Hip-hop. But it’s nice that you listen to the Indonesian classics. So who’s your favorite? Didi Kempot?
Haha, you know Didi Kempot? We call him the god of broken hearts. All of his songs are about love and broken hearts. He is a true legend in Indonesian music you know, but sadly he passed away.
You’ve lived in Birmingham, London and Utrecht so far. You already mentioned you liked Birmingham the most. This strikes me as a surprise. What made living in Birmingham so nice for you?
Well mostly because I had a lot of friends there. A city is nice, but the people you are there with make it a nice place to live.
Playing in Indonesia
Before moving to the UK and the Netherlands, Bagus obviously learned how to play football back in Indonesia. Before joining the Garuda Select program he signed with South-Kalimantan based PS Barito Putera. What is it like to play for Timnas and what is his opinion on Indonesian football culture?
You are originally from Magelang(Central Java) but got signed for Barito Putera in Kalimantan. Why didn’t you sign at a club close to your hometown? Like PPSM Magelang?
Haha well PPSM is the 3rd league of Indonesian football. I got a few contract offers from different Liga 1 teams. But most contracts were way too long. Like five to eight years. So that would make it really hard for me to leave if I wanted to.
Then we spoke with Barito Putera. Or mostly my dad spoke with them. And it was a good deal. My dad said: “it’s your choice, but this is a good deal I think. If there is interest from a European team you are free to go”
Everything was really nice there. The owner(pak Asnur), the staff and senior players. Just made me really feel at home.
And you signed there with your brother right?
Yeah! Actually, my brother just extended until 2023 with Barito. He was playing all games in the preseason (Piala Menpora) until they lost from Marc Klok’s Persija. But he got an injury. After six minutes he made a bad landing and got injured. Tomorrow he will check the MRI to check how bad it is.
That’s sad to hear. Unfortunately, you have some bad experiences with injuries yourself as well.
That’s right. At the exact same foot as my brother. I broke my left ankle. I’m on my way back to complete recovery. Let’s hope I can make it as soon as possible.
We hope so too. So besides Barito, what was your dream club to play for in Indonesia?
Bagus laughing: To be honest. I wish I could play for Persija Jakarta. Before signing with Barito. Playing for one of the biggest clubs in the country and the Gelora Bung Karno was a dream for me. But especially because of Bambang Pamungkas. He is such a legend and a massive inspiration for me.
Cool! He truly is a legend. So do you feel like the older generation with players like Pamungkas is looking after you?
Oh wauw, yes they do. They are so nice to me. I often ask them for advice and they are always willing to help me. It’s nice to have them as a role model. It means a lot for me and other young players.
Yeah I noticed your interaction with other senior players. Obviously there is a good connection with players like Irfan Bachdim, Marc Klok and Stefano Lilipaly since they also played for Utrecht before.
Yeah exactly. The first time I spoke with Irfan Bachdim about me moving to Utrecht, he was so happy for me. He gave me the advice to keep on putting in the hard work and show the world what I can do. Those conversations really help me and stimulate my motivation.
Life in The Netherlands
Moving to a new country can be quite daunting. A foreign language, different culture and weather to adapt to. How is Bagus’s experience of living abroad so far? Are there any struggles or is it easy to adapt to the Dutch culture?
Do you ever talk about Indonesian football with your Dutch teammates? How do they react?
Haha yeah they are actually really interested in Indonesian football culture. My teammates at FC Utrecht are especially aware of the Indonesian league because of players like Melvin Platje, Marc Klok, Lillipaly or Irfan Bachdim. So they ask: “how is Indonesian football? And why did you come to Holland?“
I show them the video’s of Indonesian football supporters. Because I think that is what makes Indonesian football interesting. As you know the supporters in Indonesia are crazy. When you play with so many fans behind you, you can really feel the atmosphere and give 200% on the pitch. My teammates are really interested in that.
How do you adapt to the Dutch culture, language and weather? What’s the strangest thing about Dutch culture for you?
I just enjoy my life here. Hoping to be here for a long time. Ever since I arrived in Holland I loved the country. I still remember the very first time I came to Amsterdam. My friends picked me up from the airport and we directly went to an Indonesian restaurant. I instantly thought by myself: ‘Oh my god I love this country!’
Happy to hear that and nice that you try to learn the language.
It’s actually quite easy. I try to learn the language by myself by listening to teammates and trying to pick up things from them. By now I know a few basic things like: ‘how are you?’ and count from one to twenty. It just needs some time getting used to.
But nothing that you find odd or that needs some time getting used to?
Well that probably has to be the bikes in Holland. There’s just so damn many of them. Just a few months ago I parked my bike but forgot to lock it. I was about to go to training and I was like ‘where’s my bike?’. I thought everyone in Holland is so polite and everything is safe. But my bike was stolen after just one night! How’s that a safe country?
Garuda Select & Timnas
The period of Bagus Kahfi at the Garuda Select program really meant the kick-start of his career. A chance to gain experience with playing against the best youth teams in the UK, training from former England internationals and experienced coaches. How did this impact the growth of Bagus? And what were the most memorable moments?
How would you describe your time at Garuda Select?
The Garuda Select program helped me so much to get to this stage. I’m just a boy from a small village and never expected to come to Europe. Then I got a chance to learn the European way of playing football and the English football culture. And that really helped me so much. I mean it is the best country in the world when it comes to football. I mean they invented it right?
What was the best thing you learned during your time at Garuda Select? We have seen that you have been taught new football techniques and tactics by Dennis Wise, Des Walker and others. (like the ‘two first touches-method’)?
Bagus laughing: how do you know about that? Des Walker always used to say that to me. Imitates Des walker talking:‘Bagus: two touch, two touch, two touch, two touch!’. He really taught me to be patient with the ball at my feet.
Before Garuda Select, I always used to try to do everything within a first touch to keep the pace in the game. But it turned out that the number of mistakes made by that was so high. It really drains the energy of your team if you lose the ball by errors like that. Which makes you less powerful as soon as you’ve got the ball again.
So being more patient and calm was your number one lesson you would say?
Yeah definitely. Take care of the ball, hold it and just score.
Sounds easy when you put it like that
Bagus laughing: well easier said than done haha.
You have already played against many quality opponents at both club and national team level, but who is the toughest player you have faced so far in your career?
Well the most difficult teams I played against were the English teams. As their physique is on another level. Besides that, they are so clever in the field. They anticipate your movements and weaknesses so fast. Especially the games against Chelsea and Arsenal were really hard. Their players are just so talented.
Did you have one player in particular who was really hard to play against?
Well, yeah there was this one time we played against Chelsea. In the first season of Garuda Select. You had this guy, Billy Gilmour. He is now in Chelsea’s first team already. He was just so freaking good.
The Garuda select team consists of really talented players. But not everyone makes it. What makes the difference in your opinion between going pro or not?
To be fair. They are all really good. Some of them are even better than me. Many of them have a chance to play abroad or in the Liga 1 as well, but it is what it is. If you put in hard work and have some luck, you can make it. As long as we work hard and show our ambition.
Where are most of your teammates playing now?
Well before we joined Garuda Select we had to sign with a Liga 1 club in Indonesia. So most of them are playing there.
Recently more Indonesian players seem to make a move abroad. Like Ryuji Utomo and Asnawi Bahar for example. Why is that you think?
Well obviously the league was suspended for a year. And as a football player we want to do what we love most, playing football. I find it hard to tell why players may have decided to play abroad but if there was one reason it has to do with ambition.
The future of Bagus Kahfi
Now that the first steps are made, we are interested in his plans for the future are. What is Bagus hoping to achieve? And where does he want to go after this?
What are your dreams for the future?
Well my first goal is to make my debut in the Eredivisie. As i’m currently just in the youth squad and recovering from my injury. So first things first.
I understand. But do you have a career path in mind? Or dreams you want to achieve?
Hard to tell. I hope to stay in Europe as long as possible. I first have to focus on my rehabilitation to get the most out of my career. Hopefully I can make my debut first and then we’ll see.
We have one more question from one of our fans. If you had to pick between playing regularly in an Asian League or sit on the bench in the 5th division of European football. What would you pick?
Ahh that’s a difficult question. I think being on the bench in European first division would still be good, because you can still train with the best players around and use the facilities. You get used to the standard, as the standard is higher than in Asia. But 5th division? Rather play regularly in an Asian league then haha.
Allright then the most important question of our interview. Could you send me your favorite dangdut song?
Hahaha! Will do!