It’s from a Pearl Jam song. And it’s one of the questions I was pondering more often than not. Sitting in my office, my actual office, I watched the Under 23s training under José through a small gap I had opened in the shades. He barked orders just like any of the other coaches, just as confident in his words, just as decisive in his guidance. I smiled. The kid had come a long way. But then again perhaps that could be said of myself.
The adventure of being a football coach had worn off somewhat since the first days. Many of the players that I had first encountered I had since moved or reshaped, my staff as I found, with Johan as a vital standing leg, had long since changed, and even my relationship with the fans had shifted. I was no longer this stranger, this unknown entity that they didn’t know what to expect from. It was now a two time defending champion of the league. I was a two time manager of the year. Probably the best in Persik’s history. Definitely no longer a rookie. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing, it would’ve been crazy to still feel as out of place and underprepared as I did back then, but… where did that leave me now?
When I started this journey I did it looking to see the world, to explore it. To see places I never dreamed of. Now that Persik had become familiar, even mundane, was I doing that? Was I exploring still? The question burned through my head.
The season had started with the usual ups and downs. Our usual short preseason thanks to the continental competition was followed by the inherent feeling of unfairness that came from it. We did manage to improve our performance, getting four points instead of the three we had managed last time around, finishing third in our group, ahead of Vietnamese side Binh Duong, but still behind Australian Melbourne City FC and Japanese Kashima Antlers. We did at least feature a full strength side, as we had barely done any moves in the market.
The press raised the alarms after a 1-0 defeat to Arema in the Super Piala final, but what followed that was… dominance. Utter dominance. We went through the first two months of the league without knowing defeat, only dropping 2 points out of the 36 points available. I could see the happiness it brought to my friends, to Rachel, to José, to Satria and the lads.
José caught me staring into the void after a 4-0 thrashing of Persikabo 1973 at home. He looked at me with an expression that moved between wonder and annoyances, like I was some kind of puzzle he couldn’t quite figure out.
“Will it be a long stretch at the video room, then?”, he asked.
“W…what?”, I replied, coming back from my headspace.
“You look… dissatisfied?”
“I was… I don’t know…”
José seemed to pause for a moment, like going through his catalogue of human emotions.
“You look… bored”, he said at the end.
“Yeah”, I admitted, “Perhaps that’s it”.
Simply the best
Our first league defeat came in June. The league usually slows down at that part of the year, to make room for player movement with leagues that run a July to June season. It comes to a near halt, with matches going from six or seven matches in a month and nearly every week being a double-header, to just two matches.
At that point of the season time seems to slow down around you. The bustling and hectic nature of Indonesian football takes a pause and days feel longer, like stretched out by the emptiness of it all. You just want days to pass on, to move on, so things can happen again.
On one of those fifty hour long days we faced Borneo FC, getting thrashed 3-1 at home. Again, the press raised the alarms, and again, there was nothing to it but dominance. Just a week later we anihilated Barito Putera 4-1 and kept moving. We wouldn’t be defeated for the remainder of the season.
The dominance of our game entrenched my desire for adventure. This squad of players, provided sufficient work was done with them and the necessary replacement could win the league… indeterminately. At least that was my opinion.
Once and again the press asked me who I thought was the favourite for the coming matches and once and again I told them my honest opinion: It was us. It would always be us. On no less than 14 occasions we scored 3 goals; on six of those, we put 3 goals between our rivals and ourselves. One of those was the second league match against our main rivals, Persib.
Satria finished the season as top goalscorer with 25 goals, while also being the best for goals per minute. Our two goalkeepers (which I rotated to keep everyone fit), were top and second-best for least goals conceded.
Our progress in the cup had already gone quite calmly. One of the last things that still spurred a fire under me was winning it again. Getting the double on our first title run was one of the best feelings I ever had, and losing the cup the season prior was one of the worst.
We had gone beating lower division sides until the quarter finals, where we met Persib. A 0-0 at the first leg kept it open, but we came back strong at the home leg to win 2-0. That was our fourth undefeated match against our closest opposition.
Next up was Bali United. Again, we drew (this time 1-1) away on the first leg, then thrash them 4-0 at home. For the press, that was the final, given that our opposition in the final would be third tier side Persikab Bandung. Ironically, they made it harder for us than any of the division rivals. We won the first leg, at home, just 1-0, and held dearly for a 1-1 away draw.
Winning the Cup away meant the last league match, against PSIS Semarang, was our chance to celebrate in front of our fans. I put out the best starting eleven so people could enjoy the team. PSIS, either out of disinterest or kindness, put no opposition and we won comfortably. After Satria made it 3-0, the stadium speakers started playing a “Simply the best” by Tina Turner, and then again when we were presented with the league trophy and paraded with both cups around the stadium. For me, it all had an inevitable feeling of farewell.
“I think they’re singing it for you, boss”, said Satria while we were surrounded by millions of pieces of purple and gold confetti.
“No way, this is for you man”, I replied.
He smiled and winked.
“Perhaps it’s for the both of us… like the dynamic duo, like Batman and Robin”
“Enjoy it!”, was all I could muster, because I had a lump in my throat.
Tempus fugit and all that
The following morning I went early to the office, just before dawn. I wanted to finish some pending work, the usual reports and congratulatory mail after a successful season. Most of it I knew. The league congratulated us on the title, while also announcing that our season had been record breaking, with new landmarks for points achieved, goals scored, and least defeats. Right around the time my eyes started to hurt from looking at the screen, someone knocked at the door and I saw Rachel standing at the step.
“So… finally using your office?”, she asked.
“After three years you still refuse me an internet connection in the other office”.
“And you’ll never have it”, she smiled. “I wanted to give you this”.
She handed me a closed envelope with the logo of the Indonesian Federation on it. Inside, a letter from the president commended me on winning the Manager of the Year award for a third straight year, and invited me to the ceremony where the prize would be presented to me, along with all the end of season awards. Satria had been snubbed for Player of the Year, despite improving in his performance from the last year. Somewhat ridiculously, just two of our guys had made it to the Team of the Year. “Who even votes on these things”, I said to myself.
“Odd for them to still send these out in actual paper form”, I commented.
“I guess they try to make it more of an occasion… although you’re kind of ruining it for them. Who wins it three times in a row?”
“I guess I am… such a party pooper”
She sat in the chair in front of my desk like she owned the place. Which she pretty much did.
“So… when will you announce it?”, she asked.
“José told you?”
“He expressed some concerns, which I then confirmed”.
“May I ask how?”, I asked.
“You’ve gradually been delegating more and more tasks to the scouts and the other coaches. You’ve struggled to pay attention at meetings, despite trying to hide it. And I found you here and not downstairs”, she replied, smiling to let me know she knew how smart she was.
“When are you going to tell the players?”
“And the press?”
“You have to call a press conference”
She had her eyes nailed on to me, leaving no room to escape it. I cursed my luck; dealing with the press was going to be one of the least fun parts of it all.
“I’m going to miss it here”, I said.
“But I have to move on”.
I tried to focus on the screen again. An endless excel spreadsheet by our Chief Physio told me we had had 22% less injuries than the previous season… whatever that meant.
“Do you even know who you’ll be hiring next?”
“I think I’ll be leaving that to Abdul”
“So he hires the next guy he meets at an airport?”
“Worked last time”
I sighed. Tempus fugit and all that.
“Truth be told, I’m leaving on as well”, she said.
“Really?”, I replied, taken aback.
“Yes, I think it’s time to move on for me too”.
“Do you know where you’re going?
“I’ve got an offer”.
“Yeah. I’m taking a page off your book, trying my hand at something I’ve never done before”.
“That’s good”, I said, accidentally letting out a “Hmm”.
“I’m vastly more prepared for it than you were, though”
“Of course… may I ask what it is?”
“I’ve got an offer to become the manager of this up and coming football coach who’s moving clubs soon”.
“Yeah… he’s won everything he can win at his current club and is bored to death, but he doesn’t know how he got his first job, so I’m to help out with that”.
“…sort of like an assistant?”
“More like he’ll starve to death without me”.
“I’m sure he’s thankful, but are you sure you got that offer?”
“Trust me, even this guy can write an email faster than I can walk down the hall to my office”.
As she walked away, the sun filtered through the blinds. It was a new day.