Former Chelsea football stars Michael Essien and Carlton Cole, who both played their first match in Indonesia's League One over the weekend, are facing some difficulty with Indonesian immigration. Essien and Cole, who are in the last phase of their careers, signed for Persib Bandung, one of the top football teams in Indonesia. However, based on media reports, Persib Bandung has not concluded the immigration process in time. As a result both players played their first match without having a work permit.
Based on our experience, it takes about one month to arrange a work and resident permit in Indonesia. Considering Michael Essien, 34, signed his one-year contract in mid-March 2017, while Carlton Cole signed his 10-month contract on 30 March 2017, there was few time to arrange and complete all paperwork on time. In fact, according to media reports the Bandung club only started the process several days before the first game, meaning it would be impossible to collect the work permits before the weekend when the first game of the new season was played.
It was thus a very unprofessional decision of Persib Bandung to let both players make their debut over the weekend. Although it is highly unlikely to occur in this case (given it involves famous football players and it was not the intention of both players to work illegally in the country), expats caught working in Indonesia without the appropriate permits are usually deported. In this case we assume a fine or reprimand will do, while immigration completes the work permit process.
Persib Bandung claims the nation's football association and league organizer gave both players permission to play. However, immigration has now summoned the club's management, demanding an explanation why the club's professional players perform activities within the nation without having a work permit. Indonesian Immigration is also advised to enhance communication and coordination with the nation's football association.
Sadly, this remarkable story about work permits is yet another controversial story about Indonesian football. In June 2015 the FIFA suspended Indonesia - banning it from playing international soccer - for one year because the Indonesian government was too involved in the nation's football association (the ban ended in May 2016). Prior to the ban the Indonesian government and the local soccer association (Football Association of Indonesia, or PSSI) disagreed over which football teams should be allowed to enter the nation's top league (named League One, formerly known as the Indonesian Super League). The government then suspended the PSSI after it ignored requests to ban two teams whose owners failed to meet new government regulations. Moreover, in early-2016 the president of PSSI was named a suspect in a corruption scandal.
Indonesia is a weak football nation, ranking a modest 175th on the FIFA World Ranking (per 6 April 2017). Therefore, the transfer of Essien is remarkable. Rarely (former) top football players decide to continue their professional football career in Indonesia. Only Cameroon hero Roger Milla and Argentine World Cup winner Mario Kempes had (short) careers in Indonesia in the 1990s. Therefore, the transfer of Essien and Cole to Indonesia will hopefully give a boost to Indonesian football.