Leicester City swung the axe on manager Craig Shakespeare on Tuesday night, just four months after handing him the job full time, after just one win in their opening eight Premier League games left the Foxes languishing in 18th place.
Shakespeare’s sacking has started speculation about who will replace him with several names already being mentioned.
FOX Sports Asia takes a look at some of the early contenders.
The Leicester hierarchy are said to be keen on bringing in a big name following the departure of Shakespeare so the young German would certainly fit the bill. Tuchel’s tactical prowess would certainly be welcome at the King Power Stadium and he could get more out of an underperforming side. The stumbling block, however, could be Bayern Munich, who are said to be interested in appointing Tuchel at the end of the season.
Another big name with Premier League title-winning experience, the Italian is currently in charge at Zenit St. Petersburg. Mancini also has a connection with the Foxes, having spent a short period on loan there earlier in the millennium. Could prove tough to tempt back to England as he is apparently not keen on leaving Russia with Zenit doing well.
The right kind of man for the job, but it is only a few months since he quit Palace saying he was ready for a break from football. Has been linked with the vacant US national team position, but would probably prefer to stay in club management and the Premier League if he decides to change his mind.
Another manager that Leicester’s owners would be interested in, Ancelotti has enjoyed success wherever he has gone – even with Bayern, despite his recent sacking. Recently said he would be taking a break from the game, but a big enough offer could be enough to tempt him back to the Premier League.
Dyche has worked wonders at Burnley and has rightly earned his reputation as one of the Premier League’s brightest young managers. There is no doubt that he could do a good job at Leicester, but it is uncertain whether Leicester’s owners and fans would want him. Another obstacle would be whether he would be willing to leave Turf Moor given his strong connection to the club.
FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan spent three days in Japan following Thailand star Chanathip Songkrasin to find out if ‘Chana’-fever is well and truly alive at Consadole Sapporo.
There had already been stories emanating from Japan filtering down towards Southeast Asia, about a certain pint-sized Thai playmaker being an instant hit in one of the continent’s top domestic leagues.
A post shared by Chanathip Songkrasin (@jaychanathip) on
After spending three days right in the thick of things, FOX Sports Asia can confirm it.
‘Chana’-fever has taken Consadole Sapporo by storm.
Day 1 (Friday, October 13)
The first sign appeared out of the blue. An innocent visit to the Shiroi Koibito Park, a theme park revolving around the quite-famous confectionary manufacturers who also happen to be Consadole’s main sponsors.
And there, in the middle of the souvenir shop of what is essentially a Hokkaido-version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, stood a life-sized cardboard cutout of one Chanathip Songkrasin.
After all, the Shiroi Koibito Park is essentially a tourist attraction and Sapporo sees a steady stream of visitors from Thailand.
Perhaps, just a clever marketing ploy.
Day 2 (Saturday, October 14)
Even on the journey to the Atsubetsu Park Stadium, where Consadole were set to host Kashiwa Reysol, it was evident – from the unmistakable melodic chatter of the Thai language – that some were making the 40-minute journey from the city centre purely to see Chanathip.
Nonetheless, these were his compatriots after all and, unfortunately for them, they were soon to endure a slight letdown as a niggling injury concern saw the 24-year-old start on the bench.
Thankfully, for Consadole, another former Muangthong United man came to the fore as Jay Bothroyd notched two goals and an assist to ultimately inspire the hosts to a 3-0 victory.
The Thai fans present among the near-10,000 crowd were not to be totally disappointed, however, as their star attraction came on in the 76th minute for a brief cameo.
Chanathip has wasted no time impressing in J1
Seconds after coming on, he left two Kashiwa players for dead with one of his trademark mazy dribbles.
As expected, this would have elicited shrieks of delight from the Thai fans in the crowd.
What perhaps was more surprising was a chorus of cheers coming from the Japanese, from young to old.
It wasn’t a overwhelming roar that engulfed the entire stadium but it was distinct and punctuated the crisp Sapporo air with regularity.
By now, it was clear that it wasn’t just the visitors from Thailand that had forked out for a ticket to see the Southeast Asian star in action.
Day 3 (Sunday, October 15)
7:30 seems like a dreadful wake-up time on a cold autumn day in Sapporo, with maximum temperatures reaching just 12° Celsius.
Fortunately, the promise of a one-on-one interview with Chanathip made it slightly easier to brave the cold and make an early-morning trek to Sapporo Dome.
Chanathip was among the Consadole players scheduled to take part in a light training session before playing one half of a friendly against a local team.
He started in his preferred No. 10 role but regularly drifted out left to find space.
His first touch was sublime, his passing was visionary as always. The only blemish? He decided to be too delicate with an attempt on goal after latching onto a loose ball, sending a meek effort straight into the opposition keeper’s arms.
As promised, he was withdrawn at halftime and immediately came over for a one-on-one interview, which will be published in the coming days.
Wrapped up from head to toe, there was a hint of a shiver from Chanathip although he was far from the only one.
By all accounts from the locals, it was cold day even by Sapporo standards.
Interview done, Chanathip bounced his way up the tunnel and towards the car park but, while his media duties had been fulfilled, his fan obligations were only about to begin.
In an orderly fashion perhaps only possible in a country like Japan, a line of 20-odd fans – who had earlier been seated on the hill surrounding the training pitch curiously observing proceedings – formed, all waiting for their moment with the magician.
Jerseys and scarves were signed, photographs were posed for; an elderly gentleman easily into his seventies got Chanathip to sign on a small whiteboard and then proceeded to take a picture with the man himself and said autograph.
‘Chana’ pleasing the fans, both on and off the pitch
Through it all, the artist formerly know as ‘Jay’ but now going by his newly-given moniker of ‘Chana’ was polite and respectful, happily giving up his time for those who have given him their unbridled support.
Only when every fan had been attended to, did Chanathip make a hasty exit into the warmth of his waiting vehicle, displaying the same dexterity and intent that has become his trademark qualities on the field.
The Sapporo cold may be the one thing he still has not grown accustomed to.
But there is no denying that Sapporo, especially those with their allegiances pledged to Consadole, has taken to Chanathip in a heartbeat.
In an age where sports athletes endorse everything from blankets to poker, we bring you the craziest of the lot.
Sports is big business these days. And athletes are not immune to the business side of things.
Despite drawing huge salaries, sports celebrities still find it hard to resist the temptation whenever big brands coming knocking on their door.
While some have made wise choices, many have fallen into the trap of easy money, only to regret it later on.
It’s probably safe to say that our eleven examples will fall in the latter category.
Without further ado…
It would make sense to start then with the number one World’s Highest-Paid Athlete according to Forbes, and the 32-year-old Portuguese footballing superstar has quite a few endorsement skeletons in his closet.
With a lifetime endorsement deal worth $1 billion dollars with Nike, you just wonder if last season La Liga and Champions League winner really needs to be hocking fleece blankets!
Even more strange, did you know that the Real Madrid talisman is also a brand ambassador with PokerStars?
Apparently, the Portugal national team captain is quite the fan of the (card) game: “I started playing poker a few years ago, and I love the competition, strategy and fun. I’m looking forward to taking my game to the online and live poker tables and meeting my fans head to head.”
Anything Ronaldo can do, his arch rival Messi can do better. The third World’s Highest-Paid Athlete according to Forbes, also has a lifetime deal. But with Adidas.
The 30-year-old Argentine footballer received $27 million in endorsement alone. And we are pretty sure that a huge chunk of it was paid by Indian automobile giant Tata Motors.
While he can do no wrong on the pitch, you do wonder what was Messi thinking when he agreed to do this Japanese commercial for a facewash Scalp-D.
One of the iconic faces of the beautiful game, former English football player David Beckham has been keeping himself busy. The AIA global ambassador is the face of cleaning eating, ensuring that both he and his family consume healthy meals.
So they are not gonna be jumping for the moon when they found out that he was the face of fish fingers earlier on in his career.
The current England national football manager might be smiling now that his young side has secured passage to the World Cup in Russia, but he would not look back on his Pizza Hut commercial with the same sentiment.
Coming off his Euros ’96 penalty miss against the Germans, the former England defender starred in the cult ad only to tell FFT later that “I wish I hadn’t done it.”
If you are scratching your head wondering the link between basketball and water filters, it escapes us too.
The two-time reigning NBA MVP and Golden State Warrior signed a three-year deal with Brita in 2015. He is also the face of the American sports apparel, underarmour.
Essentially the Ronaldo of the 90s’, ex-Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan was involved in more commercials than any other athlete in modern America.
But, Jordan probably wish that he passed on the 1998 AMF Bowling ad and endorsement that showcased his cheesy acting skills.
After all, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Space Jam flopped.
A legend in the wrestling game; Ric Flair is still active as a wrestling manager and WWE Legends.
The “Nature Boy” has had such an illustrious career since the 70s’ and held a number of the major titles, multiple times.
So with all that money in the bank, you just wonder if the 68-year-old still needs to plug the North Carolina Education Lottery.
Now this is the one endorsements that blows our mind. We know that pro wrestling is not a sports per say, but you still need fitness and conditioning to get through a pro wrestling match.
Which is puzzling how a wrestling god like Hulk “Hollywood” Hogan can in good faith endorse fattening fast food to kids. Guess the 80s’ were indeed strange times.
It was just over a year that we lost boxing great Muhammad Ali. #rememberali #ali4eva
The ex-heavyweight champion of the world was probably not looking back with fondness at this ad he did for d-CON Roach Trap. ‘Cos even the champ makes mistakes sometime.
Our Asian boxing action hero; Manny Paquiao is now taking his fight to a political level.
Serving as a Filipino senator, Paquiao’s opponents would not have to dig deep to find dirt on him – his very own soy sauce and vinegar!
Don’t worry Manny, it is probably a case of sour grapes. Or in this case, sour vinegar.
Serena and Venus Williams
The two female tennis superstars that everyone knows; Serena and Venus Williams lead the field when it comes to Grand Slam victories. So it is safe to say that they are pretty flushed with green.
So you can imagine the surprise (and bemusement) when the two sisters decided to put their names behind Oreo, together with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Spurs and Harry Kane have enjoyed a great start to their Champions League campaign this season, but face their biggest test yet on Tuesday when they face defending champions Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu.
FOX Sports Asia takes a look at some of the crucial talking points ahead of the crunch Group H clash.
The Harry Kane show?
Harry Kane has been the talk of Europe following his explosive start to the season. The Spurs striker has netted 15 goals in his last 11 games for club and country, which has seen him draw comparisons to Lionel Messi and Ronaldo. And while he may not be at quite the same level as the world’s two biggest superstars, he is slowly getting there. Zinedine Zidane has certainly taken notice, describing Kane as “a complete player” ahead of Tuesday evening’s match.
Could we see Real and Zidane launch a big money move for Kane in the summer? Guess it depends on how well he fares against Sergio Ramos and co.
Spurs debut on the big stage
Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs may be a known quantity domestically, Premier League teams are certainly already aware of their quality, but so far in Europe Pochettino’s team has flattered to deceive. They struggled in the Europa league during Pochettino’s first two seasons, a Round of 16 aggregate thrashing to Borussia Dortmund their best performance, while last year they won only two Champions League group stage games as they finished third behind Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen. This year they have started well and a positive result against Madrid could see Pochettino and Spurs finally make their mark on the continent.
Ronaldo ready to strike
You cannot talk about a Real Madrid match without mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star has been in his usual superb Champions League form in their first two games and has four goals in the competition already.
Even better news for Ronaldo is that Spurs are suffering a mini crisis in defence. Mauricio Pochettino has no left back with Danny Rose and Ben Davies both unlikely to play, so he may be forced to play Jan Vertonghen or Kieran Trippier in an unfamiliar position. A reshuffled defence is music to Ronaldo’s ears and you can bet your bottom dollar he will be ready to take advantage.
Control of the group at stake
Spurs have gotten off to a great start in the Champions League this term following their disappointing group stage exit last season, winning their first two games in Group H against Dortmund and APOEL. Madrid have done the same, so the next two games will prove crucial to both teams. Dortmund, although pointless so far, are likely to surge back into contention with two games against the group’s weakest team, so both Spurs and Madrid know how important the next two fixtures are.
Staring at a one-nil deficit from the first leg in Dushanbe, Benglauru FC’s star striker Sunil Chhetri is confident his side’s impressive home record will give them the edge against Tajikistan champions FC Istiklol in this week’s AFC Cup interzonal playoff final.
Chhetri’s confidence is sky high after scoring in India’s 4-1 romp over Macau last week to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, and he’s looking to take that confidence into Wednesday night’s match at what he’s hoping will be a jam-packed Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
“At home whenever we play, we’re very confident no matter who we play,” Chhetri told FOX Sports Asia.
“It’s a one-nil deficit, it’s not a big one. We can’t go kamikaze from the first minute, we have to be sensible because any away goal will kill us.
“So it’s one of those games where we have to attack, but be sensible also. But as I say at home we always fancy ourselves, we play well at home.”
Chhetri’s confidence in his side’s home form is hardly misplaced either, with Bengaluru FC on an eight-match winning streak at home that extends back to April last year and includes one of their biggest wins as a club, the 3-1 win against Malaysian giants JDT in the second leg of last year’s semi-final.
On that occasion, Bengaluru FC had to overcome the concession of an early away goal, which put them behind 2-1 on aggregate. But a brace from Chhetri either side of half time put the Indian side ahead before Spanish defender Juanan finished the match off.
The win meant Bengaluru FC became the first Indian club side to make the final of an AFC club competition, advancing to face Iraqi side Al Quwa Al Juwiya in the final in Doha. While they narrowly lost on that occasion, Chhetri is chomping at the bit for a rematch.
With the Iraqi side already securing their place in a second consecutive final thanks to a dramatic win over Syrian side Al Wahda in the West Asian final last month – a win that came courtesy of a 94th minute goal that saw them advance on away goals – a win for Bengaluru FC against FC Istiklol would set up a rematch of last year’s decider, albeit with one key difference –the final this year would be in India.
“If and when we reach the final it’s going to be at our home,” Chhetri, India’s all-time leading scorer, said excitedly.
“Imagine that? Imagine if we do turnaround this deficit and then the final is going to be at our home, and against the same opponent. That’ll be such a nice game.
“Imagine if we lost to them at their home, well not their home but in Qatar where they were playing their home games, but this year if and when we beat Istiklol and reach the final, we’re going to play the same opponent that we lost to (last year) but at our home.
Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund had their wings clipped by RB Leipzig while ‘the Heynckes factor’ produced the desired effect down in Bavaria.
FOX Sports Asia takes a look at five things we learned from Matchday 8.
Dithering Dortmund undone by Leipzig
It had to come to an end sometime, and so it transpired on Saturday as Dortmund’s superb unbeaten start to the season finally ended with a defeat at the hands of RB Leipzig. It ended poorly as Dortmund shipped three goals, more than they had in all seven previous games.
While there is no shame in losing to a quality team like Leipzig, Peter Bosz will not have been happy with the manner of the defeat, which saw sloppy defending responsible for all three Leipzig goals. Two more goals for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will have been no consolation for the Dortmund faithful, as they saw their favourites lose at home in the Bundesliga for the first time in 924 days, or 41 games.
With Bayern bouncing back into form at the weekend, how Dortmund react in their next game away to an improving Eintracht Frankfurt will be a good indication of the team’s ability to continue their challenge for the title.
The Heynckes effect
The signals from the Bayern players ahead of Saturday seemed to indicate that they would certainly turn up against SC Freiburg. The visitors never do well in Munich, so perhaps it was not the best time to face a Bayern side with much to prove to returning boss Jupp Heynckes. And so it proved, as a revitalised Bayern side were far too strong for Freiburg, grabbing five goals without reply and looking much more together as they closed the gap on leaders Dortmund to just two points.
Crisis over in Bavaria it would seem, and all the Bayern players needed was a “demanding” coach “who knows what he wants,” according to Mats Hummels. Sorry, Carlo!
Goretzka fires Schalke back to form
Schalke returned to winning ways at the weekend with an impressive 2-0 win in Berlin, ending a run of two defeats in three games that had seen youthful coach Domenico Todesco’s side falter after a strong start to the campaign.
Key to the win was attacking midfielder Leon Goretzka. Fresh from netting a brace for Germany in their 5-1 win over Azerbaijan (the first an audacious backheel), Goretzka was again in good form as he grabbed another goal from the penalty spot for his third of the season. Should he continue in this form then he will surely book himself a spot in Joachim Low’s squad for Russia and get the chance to showcase his talents on an even bigger stage, which is handy given that his contract is up in the summer!
Berlin take a stand
Also, in Berlin on Saturday we saw the first overseas “take a knee” protest as Hertha players and staff linked arms and knelt ahead of the game in support of “an open-minded world.”
The gesture mimicked the protests at NFL games in America against perceived police brutality against minorities in the United States. It’s just a shame that the gesture couldn’t inspire the players to greater heights against Schalke. It remains to be seen whether the #takeaknee protest will catch on in Europe, but the move certainly got fans on both sides of the Atlantic talking.
Rebic rocket fires Frankfurt
Ante Rebic continued his fine recent form at the weekend with a last-gasp goal in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 win away at promoted Hannover – a second consecutive defeat for Andre Breitenreiter’s men. The Croatian midfielder won it with an 89th-minute rocket, and has now netted in his last three games for Niko Kovac’s side, who are turning into away-day specialists. This was their third win in four games on the road this season (their only defeat on the raod coming at Leipzig.)
Frankfurt’s away form is all the more vital as at home they have struggled, winning just once and losing twice. Rebic and co will no doubt be eager to turn that poor run around and give the home fans something to cheer about next weekend when they entertain leaders Dortmund.
Liga 1 goalkeeper Choirul Huda tragically died on Sunday in Indonesia following an on-field collision with a teammate during a league match.
The Persela Lamongan keeper was injured after colliding with defender Ramon Rodrigues, and was pronounced dead by doctors several hours later.
It is the latest on-field tragedy to strike the beautiful game, but deaths on the football are not as uncommon as one might think, with more than 100 deaths recorded over the years.
FOX Sports Asia takes a look at some other unfortunate accidents in recent years that have led to players losing their life.
Cheick Tiote (June, 2017)
The former Newcastle United midfielder, who had spent six years in the Premier League, collapsed during training with his Chinese League One side Beijing Enterprises and was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead after suffering a cardiac arrest. The 30-year old Ivorian had represented his country 52 times and played at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
Stefan Petrovski (May, 2016)
We are saddened to hear of the passing of young goalkeeper, Stefan Petrovski. Vale Stefan. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/8PvY2JtZeZ
The Malaysian-Australian keeper died after being struck by lightning during training with his club side Melaka United. Petrovski, 18, was standing near a goal-post with a teammate on April 5 when the lightning struck and died from his injuries several weeks later. His teammate eventually recovered. Petrovski, a promising young player, had joined the Malaysian side from Sydney Olympic after receiving Malaysian citizenship.
Patrick Ekeng (May, 2016)
The Cameroon midfielder was playing for Dinamo Bucharest in Romania against FC Viitorul Constanta on May 6 when he collapsed near the centre circle just minutes after coming on as a substitute. He was rushed to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead two hours later.
Jumadi Abdi (March, 2009)
PKT Bontang midfielder Jumadi Abdi died after being injured by a high foot as he challenged for the ball in a match against Persela. Defender Deny Tarkas caught Jumadi full in the stomach with his boot, damaging his stomach and intestines. The Indonesia U-21 player died from his injuries eight days after the collision.
Cristiano Junior (December, 2004)
The Brazilian was one of the stars of Indian football at the time of his death. His form for East Bengal had earned him a big-money move to Dempo. He was injured in the Federations Cup final after colliding with Mohun Bagan keeper Subrata Paul, while chasing a through ball into the area. The lack of a doctor at the ground was later ruled to have contributed to his death from cardiac arrest.
Marc Vivien Foe (June, 2003)
Probably the most famous on-field death, the Cameroon midfielder died after collapsing in the centre circle during a Confederations Cup semi-final with Colombia in Lyon. Paramedics were quickly on the scene but were unable to save the player, who died from of a previously undetected heart condition. The final match was played in memory of Foe, with France skipper Marcel Desailly and Cameroon captain Rigobert Song lifting the trophy together.
FOX Sports Asia interviews India and Bengaluru FC keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
It’s been quite a couple of weeks for Indian football with the national team qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup for just the second time in three decades and with domestic heavyweights, Bengaluru FC, in the semifinals of the AFC Cup. Perhaps more importantly though, the nation is hosting the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup that has drawn the attention of the world to one of Asia’s fastest developing football countries.
One player who has been at the heart of the action is India’s star goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who has just returned from a trailblazing three-year stint in Europe to shine for both the national team and Bengaluru.
The 25-year-old sat down this week for a chat with FOX Sports Asia where he touched on the need for the domestic leagues to keep expanding, his goals for the 2019 Asian Cup and what it was like to play for his club in North Korea just as that rogue nation launched its latest missile test.
FOX Sports Asia (FSA): Gurpreet, thanks for speaking with Fox Sports Asia: the national team is in the midst of a brilliant run of form with an undefeated span of 12 matches stretching back to March last year and having this week secured qualification for the Asian Cup – it must be a great time to be part of the national squad, no?
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GS): Touch wood, everything has been going well to be honest and that’s purely down to the hard work of the players and the staff. At the beginning of the campaign when we played the World Cup qualifiers and we lost four or five games in that everyone was asking questions and that was the moment when the boys stuck together and decided that we will bounce back.
It was a combination of everything and there were things that we had to improve on and by making mistakes you can only learn so we did make mistakes and we still do but we make them less often now.
We knew that it would take time but we had belief and sure enough things have turned and it’s a really good dressing room to be in now.
FSA: It’s a huge moment for India to be back on the continental stage at the Asian Cup; for you and the other squad members what should be the minimum target.
GS: For starters, getting to the Asian Cup was our aim and as a developing nation in football our aim is to qualify for that every time and not be left behind because we know that other nations are improving every year.
We need to be ready to make targets that are achievable so whilst getting there was one the next one is to do well at the Asian Cup.
Hopefully we get a decent group and by 2019 we can keep improving but if everything clicks and we play well then getting out of the group stages will be one of the targets.
We failed in the last Asian Cup in 2011 and I hope we can improve because we have a bunch of boys who have good belief and our recent results show that we can do well both home and away and we need to use that confidence to help us.
FSA: It’s a huge moment for Indian football at the moment with the leagues garnering plenty of attention but more importantly with the nation hosting the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup where there have been good crowds and some solid showings from India even though they didn’t progress – have you been impressed by the tournament?
GS: It’s a very important moment for us and we’re lucky that we got such an opportunity because football needs to be pumped up in our country and nothing is enough at the moment because we are a developing nation in football and this will really help.
The Indian team did well and the results in some games were not bad even though I wish they could have done better but as everyone sees they have the capability to do better. I was impressed with the goalkeeper but also several other players to and they have the ability to keep on getting better.
FSA: Looking at your own personal story, you’ve really been a trailblazer for Indian football having spent three years in Europe with Stabaek and then created history by having a domestic club pay a transfer to bring an Indian player back home so what did you learn during those years in Norway and why the decision to return to Bengaluru FC?
GS: I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to Europe even though I never thought it would happen to be honest. So getting that opportunity and then staying there for three years was a very important time for me and I improved as both a person and a player but coming back to India was a very difficult decision to be honest.
I wanted to stay in Europe and tried to find some options but if you don’t find the right option then you take the second best option but coming back to a club like Bengaluru is very important because game time was on my mind and I’ve already played three games already and they haven’t been easy so it’s great to be getting game time and I’ll do everything I can to help the team.
FSA: Of course, you have a massive game coming up next week with the second leg of your AFC Cup semifinal after the first leg finished 1-0 in Tajikistan against Istiklol – what are you thoughts ahead of this huge match?
GS: Coming in the middle of the season and playing straight away in the knockout stages is very difficult. We did well in our last matches in North Korea and we were a bit unlucky away in Tajikistan. They’re a good team and that’s why they’ve come this far but we’re surely going to give them a good fight at home and get the result that we need as we never give up at Bengaluru.
FSA: Looking at that recent experience in North Korea when you played the April 25 side what was that experience like given that it came at a very tense time politically and you were actually in the country when they launched a missile.
GS: It was a very strange place to be in at a very strange time but we were there to do a job but in the end we had to stay a couple of days extra and sure it was very strange to hear the missile go off and go overhead and it scares you but it made me realise that we are so lucky to be in a country where you have everything, freedom and other things that are not available over there.
The country itself was also an experience: they checked our baggage very thoroughly at the airport but there are only two flights a day that come in and they finish at five o’clock so something happened with our luggage where that didn’t arrive so we had to wait until the next day for that to arrive so it certainly wasn’t easy.
FSA: Focusing on the domestic club scene with all this talk of the two competitions in the I-League and the ISL, what are your thoughts on the best way forward for Indian club football?
GS: I think as a player you want first of all to play a longer league and it doesn’t matter if we call that the ISL or the I-League or whatever but we want to play in a league that has 14 or so teams and you play every weekend over eight or nine months and that’s what I want.
It has changed a bit with ten teams in the ISL and I hope the numbers go up and it’s very important to have a system where you have a first division, a second division and a third division that all follow the same rules just like in Europe with promotion and relegation.
These are simple things and it’s not that hard to do if you find a good system so I hope we keep expanding and gaining more teams every year.
FSA: Finally, you’re playing the ‘lonely’ position in goal – where you always a keeper growing up and who were or are the players that you admire in that position?
GS: It’s always been between the posts for me and especially with my height everyone says naturally if you see someone tall then they stand between the posts.
I grew up watching Edwin van der Sar and some of Oliver Kahn and now I like to watch Gigi Buffon, who’s an absolute legend, and also David de Gea.
John Duerden discusses what can be done to tackle the violence that continues to trouble football in Indonesia.
I don’t think I have ever experienced an atmosphere to rival the Gelora Bung Karno at the 2007 Asian Cup when Indonesia were playing, especially against Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Only Iran’s Azadi Stadium comes close. But there is more colour and even more passion – and of course more female fans – in Jakarta.
The whole arena was red, the fans didn’t stop singing from well before the start to the end. In the opening game against Bahrain, a good number climbed over the gate during the game to get to the stands. The noise was guttural yet uplifting.
In the final group game against South Korea when there were officially 88,000 present, the real number was higher. A draw for the host – who had defeated Bahrain and only lost to the Saudis in the final moments- would have been enough for the last four but they, sadly for the tournament, ended up losing a hard-fought match 1-0.
Korea coach Pim Verbeek, no stranger to cauldrons of passion from his time in the Netherlands and as assistant to Guus Hiddink at the 2002 World Cup, puffed out his cheeks, raise his eyebrows and remarked: “Well, that was some atmosphere.”
Nobody who was there could not help falling in love a little with Indonesian football. The passion was overpowering.
But as Robert De Niro said to Al Pacino in ‘Heat’: “There is a flip side to that coin.”
The passion that can delight and excite sometimes boils over and it does too often in Indonesia. People talk of China and India being Asia’s sleeping giants but they don’t dream of football. Indonesia, with its quarter of a billion population does.
Plenty has been written about the corruption, scandals and mismanagement of the game over the years (passion plays a part here too, attracting those who would use football for their own ends) but there have been improvements.
Issues remain but there is an exciting league, an improving national team and the emergence of young talents such as Egy Maulana Fikri, who has impressed for his country at the recent AFF U-18 Championships and the Toulon Tournament – where he was named the ‘Breakthrough Player’.
All promising signs but the regular outbreaks of serious crowd violence are holding the game back. Save Our Soccer, an organisation that has monitored the issue since 1990, claims that there have been over 50 football-related deaths since 1990. Most of those have come in the last five years.
In July, it seemed that there had been a change in the national mood following the death of a teenage Persib Bandung fan. Yet there was another reported fatality last week when was a Persita Tangerang supporter died during a mass brawl with PSMS Medan in a Liga 2 game.
Every time such a thing happens, the usual statements can be heard expressing regret about what has happened as well as the conviction that it can’t be allowed to happen again. Yet it keeps happening.
As well as the human tragedy involved, it is hugely damaging for the game. This comes at a time when Indonesian football is finally starting to make international headlines for the right reasons.
Brawling is not just restricted to the stands.
It comes at a time when authorities are looking to build the game at all levels. If people continue to die because they have simply gone to watch a game of football then Indonesia will never reach anything close to its massive potential.
It goes without saying that fans have to play the biggest part. There were some efforts by supporters’ groups to come together after the Persib incident. More needs to be done. There is too fine a line between passion and violence in Indonesian football.
There has to be a way to reduce the levels of violence while maintaining the levels of atmosphere. And if there is not then it is the atmosphere that needs to be sacrificed.
This is the biggest issue facing the beautiful game in this beautiful country. It is not about the potential co-hosting of future World cups and it is not about attracting more international stars to this part of the world, it is about creating a safe environment for fans.
Other countries have managed to do it. English football has cleaned itself up since the dark days of the seventies and the eighties (even if there is some overplay of how dark those days actually were). It may be true that the top tier, at least, has become overly sanitised but at least it is safe.
Indonesia does not need to follow the English way but can take its own path. There can be no more deaths or this sleeping giant will never wake up and few will care about how great the atmosphere seems to be at the Gelora Bung Karno.