Since his appointment as Indonesia coach in May, Austrian Alfred Riedl has embarked on his development plan with the most populous nation in south-east Asia. A football manager of over 20 years, he has spent the most recent part of his coaching career with a number of teams across Asia, including the likes of Palestine, Vietnam and Laos, with Indonesia his fourth Asian national team role.
The former Austria coach may not been renowned for great success with big teams, but his contribution in helping lift the game in these so-called football developing nations cannot be understated. He shared with FIFA.com his views on how the smaller nations of Planet Football can improve their game.
FIFA.com: Coach Riedl, you were appointed Indonesia coach in May. What do you think of this new job, your sixth at the national level?
Alfred Riedl: I signed a two-year contract with Indonesia in early May this year and this new job should be my biggest challenge so far. In a country with a population of 260 million the expectations are understandably very high.
What goals have you set for Indonesia?
I am in charge of both the country’s senior national team and the Under-23 side so my responsibilities are to lift the football level in general in Indonesia. Of course, the first tests facing me are December’s ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship and the SEA Games, where I hope we can reach the final in both competitions. Next year, there are a series of qualifying campaigns for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, FIFA World Cup and perhaps the Asian Cup.
So, in a sense, you are responsible for building a team for the future?
The junior sides represent the future and although I am not tasked with other age group levels, other than the Under-23, I am ready to help should the need arise. Certainly, I should first be committed to my senior and Olympic tasks.
What are the positive things and what are the difficulties you face in coaching Indonesia?
I boast a highly qualified staff which includes my assistant, Wolfgang Pikal, a fellow Austrian from Vienna who has lived in Indonesia for over 20 years. His knowledge about the local football is immense and he speaks the local language perfectly. One thing I am concerning about is the policy which allows each club in the Indonesian Super League to have five imported players, which means the key positions may be occupied by foreigners.
In a country with a population of 260 million the expectations are understandably very high.
What has been the highlight of your coaching career so far?
When I coached Palestine years ago, we obtained some excellent results in the early stages of qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. I was very happy that we brought a smile back on the faces of the suffering people.
You have had three spells with Vietnam which lasted five years altogether. What progress has this country made since you took over the reins for the first time in 1998?
During my first training session with the national team the players were dressed in jerseys of different types and colours. I told the authorities I was not coaching a street football team and the next day we were well equipped. Such is the pace that the Vietnamese people want for football development and, indeed, they have made fast progress these years. The attention is ever-growing with more companies investing in the game. The fervent fans are hoping for the fastest success but the federation has showed patience, keeping me in the coaching position for many years, during which time we achieved some good results.
How long will it take for these nations to make a real impact on the international stage, for instance, to qualify for the FIFA World Cup?
This is hard to answer, but it might need decades. On top of all these nations must improve their infrastructures for football. Laos have eight football teams and even in football-mad Vietnam, there are only 50 clubs, a number which pales into insignificance compared with my country, Austria, which possesses 2,100 clubs. A group of qualified coaches and a long-term scheme are also needed if they are to catch up with the rest of the world.
Looking back at the past decade with these progressive sides, how do you reflect on your contribution in their development?
Ten years was not a short period. I have travelled a lot across Asia, where I have tried to adapt myself to the different cultures and environments. I am committed to my job and no matter what difficulties I face, I do my utmost to carry forward.