Indonesia is one of the many countries very passionate when it comes to football. Rob Davies, Garuda Select’s Program Director, concurs.
Yet the ugly truth on the country’s football achievement states otherwise with countries such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, or Thailand beating Indonesia.
Garuda Select was established in January 2019, based on the breakthrough collaboration between the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) and Mola TV to creating a long-term football coaching program by gathering Indonesian U-17 players to train in the UK to reach their full potentials, in future hopes of improving the football standard in Indonesia. Moreover, this program focusses on an acceleration program to prepare teams for the target of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics and the 2030 World Cup.
“You can always take players from the national team and train them to be better but to find players with raw talent from off the radar, who are playing in villages across the country and can be moulded into young professional players is what we’re looking for,” said Rob.
Garuda Select calls it as a process of supporting grass-root football. Selected players are within the age group U-16 and U-17, which Indonesia has plenty of. This is an opportunity for these young hopefuls to an experience they can’t get in Indonesia; taking them to Europe to let them catch an insight into the sport’s standards to become a professional. Planned to run for 10 years, two British football legends, Dennis Wise as the technical director and Des Walker as the coach, have been directly appointed to coach the selected players.
Dennis said, “We’re looking for players ahead of everybody else.” A fitness coach assembles a fitness profile based on their conducted tests in the UK. Four to five experts look over in terms of the players’ characteristics whether they’re a left-footer or right-footer, how they are balanced physically, technically and most importantly, how they manage the game.
Recommendations from PSSI are still well-received, however, their process while sounding straight forward tend to lead to times where they are sending excessive numbers in one position. For example, six right-backs and no goalkeepers.
Garuda Select has their own scouts who frequently visit Indonesia and work together with local scouts by directly inspecting potential players on the field or through watching videos. Once selected, these players are then invited to a five-day trial camp. This is the moment where they are highly analysed to be selected as the lucky qualified players.
PSSI has been experimenting for years but never achieved a long-term plan before Garuda Select was put together. Dennis mentioned the main focus is on developing them as players who will someday get bigger opportunities or return to Indonesia as better players with added values. Playing overseas brings a player to a higher level. They can bring back knowledge and skillsets to improve the national team’s standards.
As one of many examples, Kakang, a player who was unrecognised by the international selectors and developed by the Garuda Select, has now been called up to the U-19’’s Indonesian national team.
A 16-year-old player can improve dramatically within in a year, given that he’s had proper training. Selected players change their field positions (or natural position) according to the experts’ observation. Quite often, Garuda Select discovers players who club coaches claim as, for example, a centre back but is actually a centre forward because there has been no real accurate analysation of their skills and abilities.
Dennis described the various teaching methods used. Technically, Dennis and the rest of the team try to polish the selected players; maintaining repetition and concentration, the need to understand individual weaknesses and their improvements, understanding their positions and the angles they need to make, and figuring out how to be effective in the game is to name a few.
The players are also tracked through GPS. Their movements and levels are observed daily for future comparison on their first session to where they are now and until the end of the program. “We’ve got our eyes on them every day,” said Dennis. A total of 12 sessions a week is planned, which includes weights training three times a week. Nutrition is also very important. Eating correctly and sufficiently to refuel the body before and after a long day of training is emphasised.
Apart from being equipped with tactics and playing techniques, Garuda Select encourages selected players to undergo coaching training sessions. “It’s a good idea for a player, who let’s say, got injured but wants to stay in the game. This coaching certificate they obtain is worldly recognised by FIFA so they can have the correct tools for their future in football regardless of wherever they are in the world,” explained Dennis. In addition, English lessons after frolicking on the field are given daily.
The British Embassy is very supportive. “These kids are unbelievably happy to be chosen,” Rob conveyed. Moving to the UK for the first time without any familiar faces might be daunting at first. But Indonesians have a way of adapting. Rob describes them fitting in pretty well – they even work out pretty quickly where to locally get chilli.
Garuda Select’s real challenge has been Indonesia’s infrastructure because when compared to in the UK, it is exceptionally contrasting. Both Rob and Dennis concur while staying positive on overcoming this challenge.
The first batch comprising 24 players departed to the UK in January 2019 and trained for six months. The majority of these players are alumni of the U-16 Indonesian National Team who won the 2018 U-15 AFF Cup, such as Brylian Aldama, Davud Maulana, Mochamad Supriadi, Bagus Kahfi, and many more. They played in 17 matches against reputable junior clubs such as Arsenal U-16, Chelsea U-16, and Leicester City U-17. As a result, the first Garuda Select batch reaped five wins, four draws, and eight defeats.
“They experience what it’s like to be a professional footballer in Europe. They have all the same facilities and are treated to the same medical facilities, the best physio, and trainers,” Rob explained.
Bagus Kahfi is a phenomenal player who got injured in his ankle. He was immediately operated on in the UK and is now still recovering there. According to Rob, quite a few European clubs are interested in him. “He’s finding his way back but as soon as he gets back to full strength and full fitness, he’ll be playing internationally for sure and of course, for the Indonesian national team,” he said.
Garuda Select’s second batch recruitment occurred in October 2019. However, this time, there were only five international players included. A total of 24 players played 11 trial matches in the UK from October to December 2019, then moved to Italy to play four more practice matches. In Italy, the Garuda Select lost only by the smallest of margins playing against Juventus U-17 (2-1) and Inter Milan U-17 (3-2) but had convincing wins against Turino and FC Como 1907. They returned to the UK to continue training camp in February 2020.
More matches were faced. A total of 21 trial matches were played, and remarkably, the results were better this time around by reaping ten victories, four draws, and seven defeats. Their phenomenal performances have reportedly amused some European football clubs.
Despite the pandemic which continues to linger towards the rest of 2020, the third Garuda Select batch recruitment still took place. “This is probably the best year of scouting with around 140 kids. Every year, the selection process gets better as people understand what we want and what we need,” said Rob. On October 29 at Pakansari Stadium in Bogor, Dennis was accompanied by a team of coaches from England. Within six days, 26 players were declared qualified on November 3, 2020.
Garuda Select has become a standout program viewed in Indonesia. A documentary showcasing their training sessions is available on the Mola TV app. Tune in to the series of YouTube videos by searching for Garuda Select.