Withe on problems of raising Indonesian standards

Peter Withe, Indonesia's national football coach, believes the tragedy of the 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunamis caused his team's slump in the final of the 2004/05 Tiger Cup against Singapore. “It was a huge occasion,” he told Richard Edwards of The Times. “And although some of the players had obviously been through a lot, I stressed the importance of putting the disaster to the back of their minds and concentrating on their football.”

The former Aston Villa and England striker, scorer of the only goal in Aston Villa’s European Cup triumph over Bayern Munich in 1982, lost friends in the disaster "but knew that football could play a key role" in lifting a nation united in grief. “They’re football daft over here and the atmosphere was incredible,” he said. “I think in the end, though, the pressure of the occasion was too much for us. We ended up losing 5-2 over the two matches but I think in a small way we’d helped put a smile back on people’s faces.”

Withe then arranged charity matches to raise funds for victims of the natural disasters. “There was a match at the start of March for which I managed to bring over the likes of Mark Walters, Phil Neal and Ronnie Whelan,” he said. “Careca and Dunga also played and it was a fantastic occasion. Later that month we played another fund-raising match in Perth after being approached by the Australian FA ... A friend of mine from HSBC has been instrumental in the setting up of a portable hospital in Banda Aceh and FIFA are running a number of schemes aimed at rebuilding the infrastructure,” he said.

Despite the promising second position in the Tiger Cup and identifying several up-and-coming players, Boaz Salossa, Mahyadi Panggabean and Ilham Jayakesuma, Withe led Indonesia to a disappointing fourth place in the recent South East Asian Games, an Under 23 tournament that he won twice when manager of the Thailand national side.

Referring to only having one month's preparation after the end of the match-heavy Indonesian League, Withe further told Moch. N. Kurniawan of The Jakarta Post that the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) "must make a league schedule that also refers to the timetable of the national team so that the league can supply the national team with good and fresh players."

He also mentioned the problem of young Indonesian players unable to secure playing time at their national league club teams due to the presence of foreign players. However his call for a lower limit on the number of foreigners allowed on each team has since been rejected by PSSI which has actually increased the number permitted from four to five for 2006.

"It's true, commented The Jakarta Post, "that the influx of foreign players, especially from South America, as well as the poor physical and technical standards at the club level, have lowered the standard of national soccer."

However Withe remains positive: “I was brought in to raise standards and improve levels of professionalism, which is happening,” he said. “The main problem is identifying players for the national side. There are 220 million people in Indonesia, so monitoring different players is extremely hard. Who knows what the future holds, but we’re getting there."

See also: Deputy chosen for jailed Indonesian FA president (1 Dec) and Withe on Indonesian and Thai prospects (7 Aug).