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Spreading the love for Indonesian football culture


Hanif Sjahbandi – Our Biggest Enemy is Popularity

He was born on the 7th of April 1997 in the city of Bandung. After gaining experience abroad from a…

By Awaydays Asia , in Football Culture Interviews , at June 1, 2021 Tags: , , , ,

He was born on the 7th of April 1997 in the city of Bandung. After gaining experience abroad from a very early age he eventually made a quick stop at Persipasi Bandung Raya and Persiba Balikpapan, before making his debut for Arema Malang and Timnas Indonesia. We are obviously talking about Hanif Sjahbandi.

The 24-year-old midfielder won the Piala Presiden twice and is eager to constantly improve himself. A player who truly loves the game of football, dreams of playing for FC Barcelona, and who knows the struggles and what it’s like to become the center of attention on social media. We had a talk about his career, his vision on what it takes to be a professional football player and the downsides of social media in Indonesia.

This is the story of Hanif Abdurrauf Sjahbandi.

The early days of Hanif

Hanif Sjahbandi was born in the beautiful city of Bandung situated between the mountains of Tangkuban Perahu, Burangrang and Malabar. But he didn’t stay there for long. From an early age he moved around quite a lot and actually grew up in the capital of Indonesia: Jakarta. “Many people think I’m a real Bandung kid but I don’t feel that way. I didn’t really grow up in Bandung and don’t speak Sundanese, so you might say I’m more Jakartan than Bandung, but I’m fine with what people think I am either way.”

In my youth I played in the youth academy of Persib Bandung, a warm and generous club that provided me with a lot of knowledge on becoming a professional football player. From a very early age I knew there was only one thing I wanted to be: Professional football player! I have always put everything aside to achieve that dream and luckily my parents always supported me in every possible way to reach my goal. When I was young, they helped me to join clinics abroad and even founded a football academy called Two Touch Academy.

The academy was aimed at developing our skills and mentality as young players. The academy stopped back in 2015 due to the suspension of the Indonesian League. Back then people didn’t see a future in becoming a professional player and so the number of applicants drastically declined.

Hanif Sjahbandi and his two brothers posing at his parents Two Touch Academy
Hanif and his two brothers at Two Touch Academy

Experiences abroad

Actually I played abroad quite a lot, I went to Manchester two times, to Japan and Spain. But considering Manchester, let me clear one thing up first. Online you will read I joined their academy but that’s not true. I joined the Manchester United soccer school which is more similar to a football summer camp. My parents asked me to join to socialize with foreigners and of course I hoped to get noticed by the scouts of MU.

Together with more than a hundred youngsters I trained under the supervision of licensed coaches. Halfway through that week you had to do a performance test, something like an individual skill test. Out of a 100 players they selected me as the best player under 15, I was so surprised and honored. Together with other selected players they invited me to come over again. The event is called ‘world skill final’, major players like David Beckham joined that event in the past. But unfortunately, I never joined the actual academy of Manchester United.

Hanif Sjahbandi at Manchester United
 Hanif as a young boy posing with one of the Premier League cups of Manchester United

For some reason, as you know in Indonesia, a big hype was created around my persona on the internet. Once an Indonesian player gets a chance to play abroad, the whole country becomes ecstatic. But in the end, it turned out to be really difficult for me as a foreign player to play in the UK, because of visa and FIFA regulations. After my adventure in England, me and ten others decided to try our luck in Spain.

I was about fifteen at the time. Our agent setup some friendly games against local Spanish teams. Over the course of a few months, we played several games against local Spanish teams, together with friends like Samuel Silmanjuntak and Shariah Abimanyu. Some of which are still active in the Liga 1 today. It was an amazing experience, but my age in combination with my Indonesian passport made it impossible to sign a contract there. So after 10 months we moved back to Indonesia and tried our luck at home.

First ‘professional games’ for Persiba Balikpapan and Persipasi Bandung Raya 

My first professional club was Persipasi Bandung Raya  where I joined the 2015 Piala Presiden group phase, after which I moved to Persiba Balikpapan. The sun bears from East-Kalimantan. A completely different environment than what I was used to in Bandung, but the club made me feel at home right away. The most difficult thing for me to adapt to was the heat. I guess you can compare it to the heat in Surabaya, but maybe even more intense than that. Since I was used to the temperature and environment in Bandung, this kind of heat was new to me

I joined their team in the second round of the 2016 Indonesia soccer championship. As I stated earlier, there was no official league at the time due to the FIFA suspension for Indonesian football, caused by corruption scandals and fan violence. It was supposed to be my official senior debut, but none of the games were acknowledged by the FIFA. So for me it feels like my career really started when I joined Arema.

Hanif Sjahbandi representing Persiba Balikpapan
 Hanif Sjahbandi representing Persiba Balikpapan

Arema Malang & the Piala Presiden

Ah Malang, yes. I have to say I am really happy to be here. It’s one of the biggest clubs in the country with a rich history. My career really started taking off after joining Arema, I managed to secure a spot in Timnas and played alongside so many great players. After just two weeks we managed to win the Bhayangkara cup, my first trophy, but the best memory goes to the final of the 2019 Piala Presiden.

“It is one of the biggest games in our country. Similar to Barcelona and Real Madrid for the fans. Let’s say the El Classico of East Java, so obviously I was excited to play that game.”

In April 2019 Hanif Sjahbandi and Arema had to face their ultimate opponent in that year’s cup final: Persebaya Surabaya. It is one of the biggest games in our country. Similar to Barcelona and Real Madrid for the fans. Let’s say the El Classico of East Java, so obviously I was excited to play that game. The more challenge and pressure a game brings, the more excited I get pre-game. And luckily for us we had a really good team in place that season with players like: Hamka Hamzah, Makan Konate and Hendro Siswanto. So when I looked at the players around me, I really felt confident that we would win that final, there was just no way we would lose. And luckily, we didn’t haha!

The first game was played in the enormous Gelora Bung Tomo, the home of Persebaya. 50.000 hostile Bonek (Persebaya supporters) filled the stands, and tried everything in their power to take the Arema players out of the game. After a thrilling 90 minutes the scoreboard noted a 2-2 draw. In the second-leg of the final, Arema faced Persebaya on their home turf. The Kanjurahan stadium. also known as The Lions Den. With the support of Aremania they managed to win the game with a confident 2-0. Crowning themselves as the 2019 Piala Presiden winners. 

Arema players celebrating their 2019 Piala Presiden win
Arema players celebrating the win of the 2019 Piala Presiden 

You already mentioned you played with many great players. Who is the best player you have played together with and why?

I have played with and against many really good players, and I don’t really have a player I idolize, but If I have to name one player it has to be Evan Dimas. I played together with Evan a lot of times and he just has something that other Indonesian players don’t have. You see, he is one of few players who always gets called up for the national team even when the coaches change (usually a different coach, means a change in players) So it’s always exciting to play with him and try to learn from his playing style as it challenges me to become a better player as well.

I am still young, but I notice the eagerness to become better everyday. That’s something I value in other young players as well. Even though I am still young (24), the new generation of players is now coming to me for advice as well. I have to admit I only help those players who really show that they want to achieve more. If they don’t take it seriously, why should I invest my time in them, you know? I can’t help them if they don’t show heart and passion to want to improve.

Evan Dimas celebrating his goal against celebrities FC
Evan Dimas against celebrities FC

The power from within

The constant desire to become better and stay motivated is something that characterizes Hanif. Each year millions of young boys and girls dream to become a professional football player one day, but only few actually make it to the highest level or even become a pro. We asked Hanif what makes the difference between dreaming and achieving those goals.

There are so many factors that contribute to becoming a professional, apart from a good environment, talent and luck the most important factor in my opinion is your motivation. Some people will point out that the facilities in Indonesia are not as good as in Europe, and I agree, but without the right internal motivation you won’t make it anyway. You can have all the facilities in the world, but if you are not the game to try and get better day by day, work out, take care of your body, mind and food. Then what is a good field going to do for you?

“You can have all the facilities in the world, but if you are not in football to try and get better day by day, work out, take care of your body, mind and food. Then what is a good field going to do for you?”

I have to say that sometimes Indonesian culture is not really beneficial to become a professional player. Take a look at our food for example, even though it’s delicious, we also deep-fry a lot of our food, making it equally bad for your body as eating junk food everyday. You don’t see European players eating junk food everyday, right? Well if our players continue to eat gorengan all the time, what good would that do?

In the end it all comes down to true love for football and creating the right environment for yourself to perform in. You can have great facilities, amazing coaches and the best equipment. But as long as your mind is not set to become a professional football player, nothing will help you make it. It’s all about mentality. Train harder than your friends, eat well and try to become better every single day.

Hanif Sjahbandi balancing a ball on his head
 Balance in life and with the ball

The dangerous side of Social Media

Besides performing on the pitch, you also have to maintain a good relationship with people outside of the pitch and especially the online world can be a tricky place to do so. Football players and social media go hand-in-hand and somewhat of a hate-love relationship. While some players share every single detail of their personal life, others choose to keep it more minimal or business oriented. The online hype of players, teams and coaches in Indonesia can be overwhelming. Young players who play a few decent games will see their Instagram explode. Something that can be both beautiful (lots of admiration and support) while equally toxic (less focus on what really matters, racism and a backlash of negativity after a bad game). “I see it happening in front of my eyes, you know. Young players who get in trouble for things they do in their personal life, that will backfire on them on social-media.”

You know here in Indonesia people can go really crazy about football and the attention on social media can be overwhelming. Take the new generation of young players for example. Some of them are literally still kids, super young and not even senior players. Yet, the amount of attention they receive online can be on par with senior players. It’s a big challenge to deal with that in a good way, we are football players, not selebgram right!?

“I see it happening in front of my eyes, you know. Young players who get in trouble for things they do in their personal life, that will backfire on them on social-media”

On the other hand, I can completely relate to the young players, as I experienced it myself as well. I already got some attention as soon as the word came out that I went to soccer school in Manchester, but after I joined Arema and the national team, my Instagram followers skyrocketed. All of a sudden, thousands of people start texting you, asking for your time and attention, you can’t imagine what it’s like.

The senior players around me started warning me. Keep your focus on football. You get paid to play good games, not to earn followers on your social media. That message stuck with me and I try to help younger players by telling them the same thing that those senior players told me. The message got cemented in my brain especially when Bambang Pamungkas told me: ‘Our biggest challenge as football players is to deal with popularity’.

Bambang Pamungkas(Bepe20) representing Persija Jakarta
 Indonesian legend Bambang Pamungkas

You do own a Youtube channel together with Rendy Juliansyah. Can you tell us why you started the account?

Well actually it was not our own idea, but our management asked us to make a Youtube channel. Me and Rendy both lived in Jakarta at that moment, and we agreed to do it, but only during the pandemic. Since there was nothing else to do, why not spend some time interviewing other athletes, trainers and people who are involved in sport, right? It was really interesting and inspiring to talk with people like Pamungkas. We spoke with so many different people who can really change your view on life and being an athlete. But It also provided food for criticism.

“They will start saying things like: ‘ah you’re not a football player, you are a Youtuber’. They think you are taking your profession as a football player not serious, so as a player you really have to be careful what you do outside of the pitch.”

A lot of criticism from fans came in online. They will start saying things like: ‘ah you’re not a football player, you are a Youtuber’. They think you are taking your profession as a football player not completely serious, so as a player you really have to be careful what you do outside of the pitch. Of Course my focus is completely on football, and I only did the Youtube thing during the pandemic. But for the outside world it can come across as if you are not dedicated to playing football, which is nonsense. But that’s how the world works, as long as you perform well, there won’t be any problems. But play one bad game, and people will start pointing towards your activities outside of the pitch and will blame your performances based on something they see online.

Final question of today. What are your dreams for the future?

Haha difficult question. I try to be the best version of myself here in Indonesia. I am happy to play for Arema but of course I dream and hope to be able to play abroad sometime in my career. If not in Europe, then I think Thailand would be the next best thing in South-East Asian football. When it comes to the level of skill and professionality in their League, it would be a nice move. But let’s see what the future brings.

Hanif Sjahbandi celebrating his first Piala Presiden goal in the 2017 edition
After scoring his first Piala Presiden goal during the 2017 edition

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