Professional football has evolved considerably over the years. The rise of the use of sports science methods, data analysis and mental coaches has changed the professional football landscape forever, making these elements essential components of the modern game. These new aspects require adequate support facilities to contribute optimally to the performance of the players on the pitch.
At the same time, this holistic approach to football encourages club owners to adapt or improve existing training grounds to accommodate the new standard of professional football. Good examples of these redefined training sites are the Etihad Campus of Manchester City and the AXA Training Center of Liverpool. These stunning, brand new grounds provide the best possible circumstances for players, staff members and the board to excel at their jobs and achieve their respective goals.
That’s a bit of a difference when it comes to developing football countries, like Indonesia. Besides the contrast in the quality of play and tactical understandings, there is also a huge gap in sports infrastructure, as explained in our article on stadium phenomena in Indonesia. The serious lack of suitable private training facilities is another important matter that illustrates the current state of football in Indonesia and why the need to address it is urgent.
They come in many shapes and sizes
Before going into the situation in Indonesia, a brief clarification on the definition of a training accommodation is necessary. Professional football clubs usually have a separate location where they hold their in-week training sessions in preparation for matches. These practices include not only football drills on the field, but also covers physical/fitness exercises in a gym and tactical discussions in a conference room. Moreover, there are sometimes extra facilities such as an indoor pitch, swimming pool, recovery area, common room and manager’s office. The aforementioned tools can be used by every club member, ranging from youth players to first-team stars, depending on the club’s house rules. However, there are certain differences between training facilities which will be clarified in the table underneath.
|Training ground||Most basic: main outdoor pitch, dressing room and a gym||Private or partially open to public|
|Training center||More advanced: Multiple outdoor pitches, dressing/private rooms, management’s office and a gym||Private|
|Football campus||Most comprehensive: Multiple in-/outdoor pitches, dressing rooms, gym, common room, youth academy center and more||Private|
Training pitch hopping
It seems very obvious for football enthusiasts to think that these aspects are naturally provided by the management of a professional football club, as it is in their own benefit to have a place where they can conduct their activities undisturbed and sharing it with other tenants. However, nothing seems so straightforward in Indonesia. Clubs are very reluctant to invest their money in the all-encompassing campuses, training centers or even training grounds. As a result, training sessions must be held on the same pitch as where the home matches take place, which is the local stadium. Not only does this affect the quality of the grass, as it will certainly deteriorate faster due to excessive use, but it also has an impact on the general level of professionalism. The absence of a separate training venue indicates a weak professional sports climate in which players and staff members have to cope with other unfavorable conditions, such as lacking training equipment, sports nutrition and appropriate housing. This affects the mindset and the performance of athletes in the league. Although you can see a clear change in mindset among the younger generation of players. Who focus on a more healthy lifestyle to support their career.
The root cause of the lack of training grounds lies in the same street as with other infrastructural sports projects, namely the overdependence on the efforts of the (local) government. All football clubs in the Indonesian top-flight league (Liga 1) rent their stadium and training site from predominantly local authorities. Some teams, like Bali United, Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung may hold their training sessions in locations other than the home stadium due to the availability of other public football pitches nearby, but this is far from an ideal situation. Given it is a publicly accessible field means that other tenants can make use of the ground as well and even oust the professional club if they offer higher rent.
This in turn leads to a phenomenon of ‘training pitch hopping’ where a club utilizes different training pitches during the same week. It is not uncommon for a team to train in three (!) different places in three days’ time. From a sporting point of view, this is very disrupting and is also very expensive and inefficient. Therefore, some teams simply prefer to train in the home stadium, even though they acknowledge the drawbacks.
Short vs long term gains
The absence of some of these most basic, yet fundamental aspects of football impedes the development of the most popular sport in the archipelago. To be clear: the main problem is the shortage of private training facilities and not the number of football pitches in stadiums. In fact, there is a relative abundance of multi-purpose stadiums across the country. Indonesia ranks 5th in Asia and 12th worldwide in the number of stadiums per nation with 100+ sites. The heavy government funding for the construction and maintenance of local stadiums has prompted clubs to reallign their budgets on areas other than infrastructure, like player salaries, travel expenses and merchandise.
Illustrating this tendency to favor short-term financial and sporting gains over long-term benefits: The four foreign players that are allowed per team annually earn on average 10 billion rupiahs (600.000 million euros) combined while a training ground has almost the same price tag. It is a matter of choice to prefer which element has more priority.
On the other hand, teams are expected to immediately go for glory. This immense pressure from fans, sponsors and investors has always been present in football, but has increased since the rise of the (mass) use of social media. Since people can make their voices heard through social media, the interest in the game became greater than ever, especially in social media crazy Indonesia. Millions of people follow social media accounts about football and express their views on which effects are positive or negative.
The indefinite love and passion of supporters can be highly motivating and empowering for players and teams, but the ‘toxic’ attitude of a small segment of the community spreads hatred that affects the personal mental well-being. This is another apsect of the modern game that stakeholders have to deal with, and to satisfy public pressure, prioritizing instant success is almost inevitable.
Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand leading the way
It is clear that efforts are needed to make Indonesian football develop in the right direction. The country has slipped from the top in Southeast Asia to the middle category and is even on the brink to be overtaken by Cambodia (Indonesia equals Cambodia at 173rd and 174th position respectively in the FIFA rankings). Neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia have made significant progress in the last decade following a structural reform of their football system, including infrastructure. Perhaps the Indonesian FA (PSSI), league operator (PT LIB) and professional clubs in general can take some notes of the changes made by these countries. We discuss each country’s key change:
First of all, Thailand’s most influential measure has been the gradual tightening of club standards (club licenses) for all levels of the football pyramid, starting from Thai League 1 to 4. These regulations range from financial issues (transparency, minimum budget) to sporting criteria, such as the requirement to have a qualified training facility. The higher the competition, the more demanding the norms. These strict, but fair measures filter out the unhealthy/unprofessional teams and improve the overall level in the long-term (five to ten years) with as result the presence of many private training centers.
Off to Vietnam. The Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) has a different roadmap in shaping their football future. The VFF focused on building or strengthening public-private partnerships with an emphasis on youth development. Thereby are foreign partners also welcome. This strategy has resulted in the construction of top-class training centers (both natural and artificial pitches) in several cities in Vietnam. The most comprehensive facility is the Promotion Fund for Vietnamese Football Talent (PVF) in Long Hun, which received the prestigious AFC Elite Youth Scheme certificate in 2020 for applying a ‘total package method’ for developing young footballers.
Lastly, Malaysia. Indonesia’s closest neighbor also embarked on a steady development process years ago, mostly initiated by the efforts of a club owned by a local prince: Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT). This team from the southern border province of Johor does not have a rich and successful history, but has made incredible steps forward after the takeover by the royal family. The ambitious plans of the prince are based on the belief that football can unite citizens through a sense of shared identity and pride. His correspondingly large influx of (human) capital not only led to direct investments for the first team, but also to the establishment of one of the most all-inclusive, privately-owned training venue in Southeast Asia. This in turn led to a new era of total dominance by JDT in the Malaysian league. Other teams attempt to emulate their success by devoting a larger portion of their annual club budget to infrastructure and the youth academy system, which benefits will materialize in the near future.
The previous section shows that lessons can be learned from other countries to improve Indonesian football. It is not too late to change for the better and fortunately, the majority of the Liga 1 and Liga 2 teams came to this realization as well. A portion of the teams started building their own training ground/center since the start of the coronavirus pandemic (early 2020), such as Bali United, Persita Tangerang and Madura United. Other teams designed a detailed roadmap of their future training location.
All of these initiatives are important and very welcome. However, there is always a club that stands out above all others else, which in this case is second-tier side AHHA PS Pati FC (formerly known as PSG Pati FC). We have discussed the remarkable plans of this ambitious club from Central Java in a different article before, but a quick look at their influence makes it even more impressive.
The Pati-based club very recently came into the hands of Atta Halilintar, Indonesia’s biggest YouTube artist (25+ million subscribers). He explained that the exciting and promising potential of the team convinced him to buy the club from local entrepreneur Saiful Arifin. The YouTuber is determined to follow Arifin’s philosophy of building a fully comprehensive football campus so that young academy players can develop and form the backbone of the first team in the future. The club already has three training fields and the fourth and fifth ones are on the way. This emphasis on player development and professional training facilities is so unique in Indonesia that it inspired other Liga 2 sides to do the same. RANS Cilegon, DEWA United and many more teams also recently got a by celebrity takeover and immediately started building their own training ground.
This trend increased the (social media) pressure on Liga 1 teams even more to build their own facilities to avoid lagging behind their lower-class counterparts. In addition, the government is also upgrading public training area in and around the host cities in the run-up to the 2023 U20 World Cup. There is now more time to renovate existing pitches, because the biennial event is postponed to 2023. Old and outdated stadiums, such as the historic 10 November Stadium in Surabaya are getting revitalized to serve as training venues for the World Cup participants. Furthermore, new FIFA-approved training fields are being built next to the host stadiums. The Gelora Bung Tomo in Surabaya received three training pitches surrounding by the sawahs (rice fields), and Si Jalak Harupat in Bandung got an artificial one. This offers Liga 1 clubs new opportunities to train separately.
In short, there is a problematic lack of private training facilities in Indonesia. Training accommodations are crucial in modern day football. The overreliance on local authorities has led to an unhealthy and less professional sports environment. Teams are initially reluctant to construct their own facilities, preferring short-term goals over long-term advantages. They finally realized the necessity after the achievements from neighboring countries and the leading role of AHHA PS Pati and Bali United. Let’s hope this positive trend ensures a brighter future for Indonesian football and its passionate followers.