Thomas Doll finds happiness in Indonesia
01/24/2023, 5:09 p.m.
The former Bundesliga coach plays with Persija Jakarta for the Indonesian football league. But a dark shadow has long hung over the season, which also occupies the former world-class footballer. Otherwise, the 56-year-old has settled into his new home.
Thomas Doll seems more relaxed than before, which may also be due to external circumstances. “There’s no point in getting upset because there’s no other way,” says the former Bundesliga manager, “with all the mopeds and all that.” In Indonesia, where Doll is playing for the title with capital club Persija Jakarta’s first division football team, the roads are often congested and the distances are long. The 56-year-old needs an hour and a half to travel from his apartment in posh South Jakarta to the club’s training grounds. It’s everyday life. Doll’s time in Indonesia is characterized by a state of emergency. “So much has happened in the seven months since I’ve been here that others have never experienced in their whole life,” Persija’s coach said.
The stadium tragedy after the duel between two league rivals, in which 135 people lost their lives last October, also marked Doll. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong. And in the end there was the second worst tragedy in football,” he says. “Everyone was really shocked in Indonesia.” The next disaster followed in November, an earthquake that killed more than 300 people. December news: coal mine explosion, volcanic eruption, floods, bombing.
A globetrotter in the monsoon rain
How should a coach prepare his team for football matches when the state of emergency is part of everyday life? “Due to the fact that a lot of things often happen here, maybe that’s not how we will perceive it in Germany,” says Doll. “It’s the order of the day here that things move on. Life always goes on. It’s the same after plane crashes, it’s the same after such tragedies.” And so on throughout a season in which Doll impresses with his XI, which is his most extreme experience to date outside of sport – although he has also seen and experienced a lot in other countries.
Born in Mecklenburg, he was under contract as a player in Italy (Lazio Rom, AS Bari), as a coach in Turkey (Gençlerbirliği Ankara), Saudi Arabia (Al-Hilal), Hungary (Ferencváros Budapest) and Cyprus ( Apoel Nicosia). And in Hannover 96, Hamburger SV or Borussia Dortmund there was often fire, Doll’s angry speech at the BVB (“I’m kidding myself”) testifies to this.
So now Indonesia – and it’s a completely different (football) world. “The pitch was under water, we had to wait an hour and a half,” says Doll, for example, about the game against PSS Sleman on Christmas Eve. It had rained like a monsoon and the referee stopped the game at halftime. “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Doll says, “it just didn’t work anymore, the ball didn’t run, no chance.”
After all, the coach made it back to Jakarta in time by charter plane, briefly to the apartment and then to the airport in time to fly to his family in Budapest via Doha. “I’m glad it worked out – sometimes games are rescheduled at short notice.” Not this time. Doll was able to spend Christmas and New Years at home with his wife and one-year-old daughter.
The silence after the disaster
The coach has been back in Jakarta since January 2. Doll has long banished the idea of turning her back on Indonesia – despite the dark shadow that hangs over the season. It was “very bad” for him, Doll reported on October 1, when a massive panic broke out at Kanjuruhan Stadium in East Java province after the match between Arema Malang and Persebaya Surabaya. Fans had stormed the field, the police used violence and tear gas against them. Thousands tried to reach the emergency exits, 135 did not survive. “And we should have played football that day – thank God it was cancelled,” Doll recalled. “The players were also quite upset.”
Continue? Not at the start. Doll gave his team, which also includes ex-Rostocker Hanno Behrens, nine days off after the accident. Come down, switch off, sort your thoughts. Friendlies followed as the league took a two-month break following the stadium disaster. Operations didn’t continue until early December, “at any moment”, reports Doll – and with a tough schedule to make up for canceled matches.
A derby as glorious as HSV against Werder
At Christmas, Doll’s team had to do it six times – behind closed doors. This is also the result of the accident. “We haven’t had a game for over two months and then you suddenly play every three or four days – it really wasn’t easy.” Not for the head either. “The six games without fans were like friendlies, it’s not fun,” says Doll. Especially since the league hosted all the teams in the same hotel to save time and distance. The matches were played on neutral grounds all around. Emergency state.
Doll’s contract in Jakarta runs until 2025 and the coach wants to fulfill it. He feels good, raves about his club and the fans. “Persija Jakarta is not just any club, it’s a traditional club with around ten million fans. It’s amazing.” Even after the match we still sing for a long time, “these are goosebumps moments”. And when the derby against Persib Bandung approaches, “it’s like Werder Bremen against HSV”. Prospects look good, Persija is planning new training grounds and moving to the 82,000 seater International Stadium. “We would like to build something here,” says Doll. “Indonesia isn’t the Bundesliga or Spain anymore, but it’s very interesting.” And anything but ordinary.
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