Monday, September 14, 2009

Dutch-Indonesian Footballers

Indonesia is a country that is mad for sepak bola - football, or soccer if you prefer. Fans of Manchester United and Chelsea are everywhere, and children run barefoot in the kampung kicking the ball around with gusto. You'd have to say it's more popular than badminton, which is the national sport and the only sport Indonesia has ever dominated internationally. But Indonesia has never been to the World Cup Finals, although as the Dutch East Indies it was the first Asian team ever to appear at the tournament in 1938. (The team lost 6-0 to Hungary and was never seen at the tournament again.) While raw talent and enthusiasm is there, the infrastructure is not, and the Indonesians seldom are anywhere near the top of their Asian qualification group. Currently ranked in the 130s, the highest ranking ever achieved by the Merah Putih was 76th in the world, in 1998.

But Indonesians can take some comfort in knowing that there are players of Indonesian origin kicking some ass in the world of professional football. The Dutch football league has produced numerous Indo-Dutch players who have gone on to play in Europe's biggest clubs and in the most prestigious international competitions. With Indonesia being a former Dutch colony, there is a significant diaspora in the Netherlands (around half a million), who are often regarded as the best-assimilated of its immigrant populations. Entertainers such as Armand Van Helden, Eddie Van Halen and Kristin Kreuk also descend from this diaspora. Of the various Dutch ethnic minorities who have contributed players to the national football team, perhaps only the Surinamese have had a greater presence, although there are probably more Dutch-Moroccans coming through the footballing ranks now.
Roy Makaay now plays for Feyenoord at the tail end of a career that has seen the striker scoring mountains of goals for the likes of Bayern Munich and Deportivo La Coruna. It was at Deportivo that he won the Golden Boot Award for being the top scorer in Europe in 2003, after which he moved to Germany and continued to bang them in for fun in the Bundesliga. Strangely, despite his stellar scoring abilities, he never managed to play in a World Cup, finding himself stuck behind stars like Bergkamp, Kluivert and Van Nistelrooy. He did manage to accumulate 43 caps for the Netherlands and feature in 2 European Championships.

Also back at his boyhood club Feyenoord is Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, who at 34 is also winding down an impressive career. After a promising stints at Glasgow Rangers and Arsenal (where he was known as a creative midfielder), his progress stalled due to injury. Traded to Barcelona in 2003 for Cesc Fabregas, he switched to left-back, a move that revitalised his career. During his tenure at Barca they won La Liga twice and the UEFA Champions League in 2006, ironically against his old team Arsenal. He also cemented his spot as the first-choice left-back for the national team for several years. Gio played in 3 European Championships for the Oranje and in 2 World Cups.

Robin Van Persie has emerged as one of the world's top strikers, although his career threatens to never achieve its true potential due to his constant injury problems. Despite rarely ever playing anything close to a full season, Van Persie has established himself as an irreplaceable member of the Dutch side, and at Arsenal in the English Premier League. He is known for his pile-driver of a left foot, but regular finishes among the league leaders in assists as well.

At 38, striker Michael Mols has all but retired from the game, but carved out an impressive goalscoring record at FC Utrecht and Glasgow Rangers. This included 6 caps for the Oranje, although an injury in the Champions League in 1999 was to hamper his career. He did manage to win 2 Scottish League titles and 5 domestic cups in his time at Rangers, no mean feat. He was last seen playing for Feyenoord.

Sergio Van Dijk is now into his second season for the Brisbane Roar and has established himself as one of the stars of the A-League. The tall, powerful striker has expressed his interest in representing Indonesia at international level, but the Indonesian FA has rejected this as he was born in Holland. I think they should take whoever they can get, personally.
John Heitinga is a versatile defender (playing mostly at right-back) who has featured in the 2006 World Cup as well as the 2004 and 2006 European Championships, making 47 appearances for the national team. A product of the famous Ajax youth system, he completed a season at Atletico Madrid before sealing a move to Everton in the English Premier League.

We Indonesians are generally smallish people of slight build, not well-suited to the role of tough-tackling defensive midfielders. Except of course for Denny Landzaat, the former captain of AZ Alkmaar who has notched up 33 appearances for the Netherlands, including making the squad for the 2006 World Cup. After a spell at Wigan in the EPL, he is now at Feyenoord, who seem to be trying to build a whole team of ageing Indos.
Another player whose career was blighted by injuries is tricky left-winger Bobby Petta. Starting at Feyenoord, the journeyman did a stint at Ipswich Town before distinguishing himself at Celtic, winning the 2001 Scottish Championship and earning a callup to the Oranje. However, he never took the field for his country due to injury. More recently he has been seen in the A-League with Adelaide and Sydney. Petta is of Moluccan ancestry, as are Van Bronckhorst and Landzaat. Despite the Moluccan Islands having less than 1% of the Indonesian population, the largely Christian Moluccans make up around 10% of Dutch-Indonesians.

Like this? You may like:

Guess who's Asian? (famous people you probably didn't know had Asian blood)

The Surinamese footballing diaspora

The Nigerian diaspora - Athletes

West Indians now more Indian than ever - the Caribbean's Indian cricket stars

2006 World Cup Roundup

Indonesian contributions to world culture


  1. All these guys are great players and freaking gorgeous!

  2. I reckon that some of what you called 'Indonesia descendants' don't like to be called as 'Indonesian descendants' but as 'Maluku/ Mollucan descendant' especially if we see the lately video on Youtube shown Gio's mother and family proud to unfurled the RMS (South Mollucas Republik; namely by Indonesia's government as separatist).

    I prefer to call Gio 'n other footballer s as Mollucan descendants rather than 'Indonesian descendants' for the history of why their parents and grandparents moved to Holland ^_^

    I'm sure if you ask them the question, they will surely answer of being Mollucan descendants. I know that sort of feeling for I have Mollucan's side from my mom ^_^

  3. @ Meimosaki:

    I'm no expert on the Moluccan separatist movement, and don't wish to disrespect their struggle. But the Moluccan region is considered to be part of Indonesia by all but a tiny majority of people. I don't think it is technically incorrect to say that they are Indonesian as well as Moluccan.

  4. I had no idea Van Persie was also Asian.

  5. Nice artcle, but Makaay and Van Persie are plain Dutch. Where did you get the idea they have Indonesian descent?...
    I asked my friend Mario Van Gelder - who is, of mixed Indonesia-Dutch ancestry - and he told me that these two athletes are by no means of Indonesian, totally or partially, descent.