He was born in Rotterdam as a child of a Dutch-Indonesian father and a Dutch mother. A gifted footballer who completed the youth academy of Feyenoord Rotterdam before descending on an adventure abroad that brought him to China and back to his roots in Indonesia.
The athlete is currently active for Liga 1 club Persita Tangerang and was a former international of the national team of Indonesia. He just settled in Tangerang, a lovely area, located on the western border of Jakarta. This is the most recent chapter in the football career of Raphael Maitimo.
His journey in Indonesia has taken him from the beautiful beaches of Bali to the remote jungles of Kalimantan. And from playing with Michael Essien to playing against stars from his generation like Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben.
Raphael is an outspoken person who stays true to his own beliefs and values. We talked about his career, the choices he made along the way, the absurdities in Indonesian football and the distorting effects of picture-perfect Instagram life.
This is the story of Raphael Maitimo.
I was born and raised in Rotterdam. Where I completed the youth academy of Rotterdam’s pride; Feyenoord. I got scouted a couple of times as a youngster, but it took me multiple attempts to convince my parents to allow me to completely focus on a career as a football player. My dad is a former boxer who eventually understood my desire to chase the dream to become a professional player.
My parents are from mixed Dutch-Indonesian descent. My grandfather on my fathers’ side was born in Bukittinggi, West-Sumatra and moved to The Netherlands after the war. But my family name is derived from the Eastern islands of Indonesia. The name Maitimo has Portuguese origins and comes from the Maluku Island.
In my early years, I was a talented, attacking player who knew how to score goals. I grew up in the same generation as stars like Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Nigel De Jong. But although I had my talents, they became world stars and I didn’t..
I’ve asked myself many times why I didn’t make it like my fellow teammates. In a later stage of my career, I realized that reaching the top is about mentality. When I played in China and Indonesia I found out I wasn’t ready at that early age to appreciate my talents and privileged position in the Netherlands.
Where it all started
My career as a professional started at FC Dordrecht, where I had a good first season. We had a really good team, but I was still young, foolish and I didn’t had the right attitude at that age. I didn’t earn a lot of money and my friends convinced me to focus more on my life outside football. Although I had a good season, I decided to follow that path and focus on my study. I stepped down a level and went on to play for SC Feyenoord, a semi-professional football club.
The idea was to get my bachelor’s degree in Economics and pick-up on professional football later. But I really underestimated football on a semi-professional level, which is much more physical. I felt completely out of place there and it was harder than I expected to get back to professional football, but things changed when I graduated from University, and I got a chance to play in China.
From Rotterdam to Bejing
It sounds like a strange move, right? Moving from Rotterdam to Bejing to play football in China. But it went really well and gave me a lot of new insights, to be honest. It was the first time in my life I was completely appointed to myself whilst being in a foreign environment. It was back then, that I learned how to take care of myself and how to adapt to a new culture.
At that time, I played for BIT, the Bejing Institute of Technology, a new club that acted in the second tier of Chinese football. I was positively surprised by the level of the local youths there. Besides that, the Chinese really aimed at a high level of professionalism and I found out you can leave organizational challenges to them.
Although the two years in Beijing went surprisingly well, I also realized what I had left behind and asked myself: “Why am I playing here?”. The best opportunities and facilities are back in the Netherlands and I saw guys with less talent who made it further than me. I made the decision to return to the Netherlands, and try to restart my career there. At the same time I got contacted by the Indonesian federation. Because of my performance in China they would like to see me play in Indonesia and possibly in the Indonesian National team because of my Indonesian roots. Of course, that peaked my attention and it turned out to be an interesting turn of events.
To proof my skills in Indonesia, I ended up signing a contract with Bali Devata F.C. A nice move considering the enjoyable life you can have in Bali, but also a move made during a difficult time for Indonesian football.
At that time there were 2 active leagues, one legal and one illegal competition. The former league was split into two separate leagues due to political struggles between top officials within the federation. If I knew this before signing the contract at Bali Devata F.C. it would have saved me a lot of problems.
“At that time there were 2 active leagues, one legal and one illegal competition. The league was split into two separate leagues due to political struggles between top officials within the federation.”
The league I played in got cancelled after six or seven months. My contract was declared invalid and so I suddenly found myself unemployed on the streets. It was impossible to switch teams because I had been active in the cancelled competition. Clubs from the active League were not allowed to take me on as their player.
I almost lost faith in Indonesian football and decided to move back to The Netherlands. I thought this was going to be the end of my football career but luckily I got a second chance in Indonesian football. Mitra Kukar showed interest after my performances at Bali Devata F.C. and offered me a new contract. The club from Kalimantan that turned out to be the definite restart of my career!
Welcome to the (political) jungle!
I arrived in the jungles of Kalimantan to play for Mitra Kukar in Tenggarong. A place so far back in time you don’t have any western facilities at all. I was shocked by what I witnessed there. We had to take a ferry to the training field every day. It was the type of river you could find crocodiles in, on a bad day.
“I was shocked by what I witnessed there. We had to take a ferry, to the training field every day. It was the type of river where you could find crocodiles in, on a bad day”
It was a heavy period, I often felt lonely because you are so isolated from the outside world. But it was a special time as well. We had a nice team and performed well in the competition. I had a good relationship with coach Stefan Hansson, who made it easier to be there. During that period, I kept telling myself: “You are here to work, and you have to earn your money while you are still young”. But to be honest I was happy that I moved to a more modern place with access to western facilities after living in that part of Kalimantan for 1,5 years.
I moved to Palembang, South Sumatra to play for Sriwijaya. A respectable Indonesian club with a lot of history. And I was ready to take the next step, but then the unexpected happened again. The whole country got suspended from competing in registered forms of football by the FIFA, due to supporter violence and corruption scandals. So, after four months in Palembang, my contract was torn again and a new “club hopping” culture emerged. I moved from club to club to participate in small tournaments in return for match fees and tried to stay fit for next season. A really uncertain time for all players but especially for a foreign player like me.
Luckily, after the suspension ended, I managed to sign a contract with Arema, Malang. One of the bigger clubs in Indonesia. We had an amazing season and won two cups in the early stage of the competition. We constantly competed for first place that season until another political struggle arose. For some reason, in the final six matches of the competition the management turned against us. They completely stopped supporting the team and started obstructing us. It was unbelievable, I still don’t know what the force was behind this certain change in attitude towards us. We had a nice team and were performing great, but then everything changed from overnight. You just know that something isn’t right. We became runners-up that season instead of winning the league.
And I guess, ultimately that’s it with all the championships and cups here in Indonesia. You never know what political battle is fought behind the scenes. It’s hard to digest as a sportsman because you work towards your goal, handling ups, and downs along the way. And then, in the end, some force from above can take that well-deserved price from you. So yes, it is fantastic that I have won my cups here, but I always try to put things into perspective because of that.
AFF Championship 2012
The reason I moved to Indonesia in the first place, was the opportunity to become an international for Indonesia. The federation of Indonesia had contacted me back in 2010 to become an international for Indonesia. Of course, I felt honoured in the first place to represent the country of my grandfather. A big honour for both me and my family.
With the struggles within the country and the clubs I played for, my performances remained consistent enough to represent the country of my grandfather as an international. It eventually took them until 2012(!) to get the paperwork done, so I was able to play in the 2012 AFF Championship. I always say: “In Indonesia, you find yourself on thin ice every day. You never know what will happen”. Sometimes certain things just take a very long time. A day before the first match, I got the confirmation that I was able to play. Better late than never you could say haha.
“In Indonesia, you find yourself on thin ice every day. You never know what will happen”
I made my debut against Laos in the Bukit Jalil Stadium, Malaysia’s national stadium. We received a red card in the first 10 minutes and got 1-0 behind. It was at that moment; we knew this was going to be a hell of a challenge.
Eventually, we managed to equalize from a corner just before half-time. I scored, a great way to liven up my debut. We managed to stay equal until Laos turned the game around in the 80th minute, 2-1. We were heading for defeat until Laos received a red card as well and Mofu scored an extreme late 90th-minute goal to equalize. Man, we went crazy!
It was too bad we only managed to draw against Laos, as we won the next match against Singapore (the eventual winners of the tournament). With a bit more luck we could win that first game and who knows where we would have end up in the tournament. We had a strong squad and good team spirit, but hey! That’s how football works.
Battle of the roots
The highlight of my career as an international was the friendly match against my home country, The Netherlands. All of a sudden, I was back on the field with the guys I used to play with in my early years when I was 15 and 16 years old. Players like Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder, who I very much respect.
I played a decent game, although obviously, we were constantly defending haha. I was exhausted after that game. But to play in a completely filled Gelora Bung Karno, for 80,000 people, against your own country, that’s such an amazing experience.
Afterward, I went to the hotel of the Dutch team to hang out with some players I knew from the Netherlands under 15 and 16 squads. It was a special experience for many of them as well. Van Persie has Indonesian roots as well, so for him, it was also a special occasion.
During a period of three years, I was invited for all games of the national team, but then the league got suspended by the FIFA in 2015. For a period of 1 year, Indonesia wasn’t allowed to play any international games. The management of the federation changed. The people who arranged my naturalization got kicked-out and the new members wanted to see new players for the national team.
“Look, you have guys whose manager calls the PSSI every day to beg to play for the national team, while they don’t even play at their own club. I don’t play that game”
I can look back at that time both proud and with a bad aftertaste. I wanted to become an international for Indonesia and that’s what I achieved without using back doors or sleeky methods. I mean there are guys, whose managers call the PSSI every day to beg them to play in the national team, while they don’t even play at their clubs. That is up to them of course but that’s not how I want to go about it. I don’t play that game. It makes you wonder, should I use those methods as well to make it easier for myself?
Promises are there to be broken, welcome to Indonesia!
After that season at Arema, I had 5 good offers from several clubs in Asia like Buriram(Thailand) and Selangor FA(Malaysia). But I had already reached an agreement with PSM Makassar. At the time, you had a Dutch coach there (Robert Alberts) and the management made several great promises. But when I got there, it was a complete disaster.
After 2/3 weeks, I decided to fly back to Jakarta, because they absolutely did not keep their promises. I felt heavily screwed because I turned down a lot of good offers to come and play for them. In the media, they portrayed me as the bogeyman, as if I screwed the club. They played a lot of games in the media, but I didn’t respond to anything. Luckily, I didn’t sign any official agreement with PSM yet so then I signed at Persib Bandung.
All of a sudden, I found myself in the same team as former Premier League stars Michael Essien and Carlton Cole. Of course, I’m a big fan of Michael Essien as well. I mean he is one of the best defensive midfielders of my generation. And although they were big stars, they were very approachable and down to earth. Something you see often with big players like them. They are not show-offs at all, but let their performances do the talking for them.
A whirlwind of media attention surrounded the team because of the signing of Essien and Cole, but we were off to a great start. After 5 games we were at the top of the league, I was positioned as a false 9, my favourite position. An attacking position in which I get a lot of space for free-roaming and opening up with assists. But then it happened again, political struggles within the management. I played a really good season, and ended as club top scorer. The supporters gave me the nickname “Maungtimo”. A combination of Maung (the club mascot) which means lion and my last name. That nickname stuck and is my most well-known nickname in Indonesia.
Even though I was happy at Persib, the political struggles worried me as I didn’t want to end up in a similar situation as I had experienced before. Besides that, I was 34 and I received an offer from Madura United, that I couldn’t refuse. Ultimately, you have to put your health over anything, and you need to feel comfortable with your employer so I decided to take the offer and move to East-Java.
Not everything in the garden is rosy
As you can see, I had to overcome many struggles with mostly management and officials in my years in Indonesia. I told myself so many times: “This is it. No more, I’m done with it…” But then you realize that you have one of the most beautiful professions. Being able to play football for a living. How many little boys are dreaming of that life? That feeling you get from winning games and the sacrifices you make to get there. You remember all of it and that gives you the energy to not give up those dreams just because some bad people try to make life hard for you.
“I told myself so many times: “This is it. No more, I’m done with it…” But then you realize that you have one of the most beautiful professions.”
The life of a football player always looks fantastic on social media, but most of it isn’t the reality. I have to say, I am quite “organic” on my social media. I am who I am. I don’t like to pretend to be better than you actually are. Of course, you often post something positive, a moment of happiness or success, but it must remain honest and true in my opinion.
Some guys act like superstars on social media and seem to have forgotten where they come from. They manipulate people on Instagram by letting people believe they Then I think: “stop it man. Any moron can achieve status on Instagram. It’s about where you came from and how you perform in real life”.
“Some guys act like superstars on social media and seem to have forgotten where they came from. Then I think: “Stop it man. Any moron can be a star on Instagram. It’s about where you came from and how you perform in real life”
Unfortunately, it happens a lot, especially here in Indonesia. People from the entertainment world commit to a certain brand for example, and those people don’t realize this is a purely commercial move. It seems like people can’t distinguish real from fake anymore.
Persita & life after football
Flash forward to the present. I’m currently in the final years of my career. Although I am 36 I still have a burning desire to show my skills. I was ready for the competition to return. I was training with my physio for a while to get back to my old shape, after a long injury that held me back last year. But then we received a message yesterday that the league will be postponed for another month. To be honest, I expected this, and I think it’s better to completely cancel the competition, so we all know what we are up to.
My gut feeling already said this earlier. I believe it’s better to stop, and start over next year. Because we just don’t know how the situation considering COVID-19 is going to evolve. My plan is to remain a professional player for the upcoming 2-3 years, as long as my body can keep up of course. I’m happy at Persita right now, a big club with a lot of history.
What I want to do when my career is finished?
I have several projects I would like to invest my time in. I’ve built a reputation as a public figure and model in Indonesia. I already did projects for several brands, so something in marketing, branding, and endorsement is what’s fit’s in my alley. Besides that, I would like to write an educational book about my life as a football player in South East Asia. Something to give back to the community of young football players who are thinking about taking the same steps. Apart from the political struggles that I witnessed, I can definitely recommend anyone to play in Indonesia. The fan experience in this part of the world is insane and something everyone should witness once in their life.