Asian Football

Clawing Their Way To The Top: The Garuda Lions Project

It goes without saying that Indonesians love the beautiful game. The football-crazy nation is home to some of the best teams and some of the best-supported sides in the region. Sides like Bali United, Arema Malang, Persija Jakarta, and Persib Bandung have millions of fans and countless fan groups. Indonesia is scattered with numerous teams, each attempting to become the best in the state. Within the vast football landscape, one new entity is trying to carve its space and, in doing so, demonstrate why it may indeed be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Introducing Garuda Lions, Indonesia’s newest team.

Led by Frank Amadio, an Englishman who grew up next to Stamford Bridge and is unsurprisingly a Chelsea fan, the Indonesian outfit has ambitions to revolutionize Indonesian football, but how did this all start?

Image Credits: Frank Amadio

Laying The Foundations For Garuda Lions

“I came to Indonesia in 2009 with no job or not knowing anyone here” explains Frank.  It was very challenging for me at first because Indonesia was like landing on the moon. Everything seemed so alien to me, and I did not know how to adapt at first. However deep inside I felt it was destiny that pulled me here, and slowly but surely I began to fall in love with the country and found myself full-time work as an English teacher and permanent accommodation. Eventually, I married and had a daughter, and now I feel as Indonesian as any non-born Indonesian can.”

Frank then started an amateur football academy, B24, for underprivileged children in Depok, Indonesia in 2013. Noticing several issues such as alcoholism, drugs, and other vices plaguing the local youths, Frank, his wife and the local leaders decided to find a solution to help improve the livelihoods of these troubled youngsters. During a sit-down with youths in the area, many voiced how they felt hopeless. Due to their poverty, they believed that they had no real prospects of getting a good education, attending university or getting a proper job to provide for their families.

“Furthermore, these youths also believed that they were looked down upon by the upper echelons of society and did not feel part of society as a whole,” adds Frank. “It was after this meeting we decided to create the B24 Football Academy and give these underprivileged youth a place where they could come 2-3 times a week and have some physical and mental release from their lives’ problems, feel part of a loving and caring group of people and also feel the support and pride of the local community by representing them in tournaments and matches. We provided qualified coaches, clothing, training equipment and facilities, and regular games through organized leagues and tournaments.”

Football became a tool to empower the disenfranchised and the academy remains an avenue that successfully transforms the lives of many young Indonesians in Depok.

The Roar Is Heard: A New Lease of Life

Yet, when one ventures into the realm of football, it isn’t long before the urge to play at a higher level kicks in. By 2017, many children from the academy had aspirations to become professional footballers and believed that they could make a living out of this. Frank was thrilled to hear how these youths dared to dream again and decided to act on this. Thus, in that year, he came up with the idea of providing these talented and underprivileged children with a more professional setting under the guidance of better-qualified coaches.

Unfortunately, it took some time before the project got underway. Work and family commitments meant he could not act on establishing Garuda Lions immediately. When he finally was ready to get the ball rolling, another tragedy hit – the global pandemic.

Image Courtesy of Frank Amadio

Thankfully, with the dust from the COVID-19 outbreak is starting to settle, Garuda Lions was finally born. On July 2, 2022, the club became an officially registered football academy/club with the PSSI in area of Tangerang. Besides providing a platform for underprivileged children to grow into professional players, the club has many objectives. These include increasing women’s participation in the beautiful game (they currently have two female coaches along with their male coaches), striving for financial and environmental sustainability, reducing local poverty, and subsidizing the football education of grassroots coaches – a significant goal given the serious lack of grassroots coaches in the archipelago. In the long term, Frank believes that Garuda Lions will participate in Liga 1, the Indonesian top-flight, with the majority of players consisting of those that have emerged from the academy.

Yet, in a football world where many teams have dissolved in recent years due to financial issues, I could not help but wonder how the club plans to become sustainable in the years to come while retaining its noble goals.

“I suspect many clubs/academies’ approaches of business first and football second is actually counterproductive to financial sustainability in the long term,” responds Frank. “For me, the product which is football. The players and the coaches have to be of sufficient quality because this determines how successful one becomes. We can see prime examples like Brighton and Brentford, who run their clubs with long-term sustainable success and vision by developing young talented players from the UK or abroad and then selling them for enormous fees.”

Frank would also like to follow the incredible success and example of Uruguay.

“Uruguay, in my opinion, is, per capita, the most successful country in world football at developing young players and selling them at significant profits. They have an excellent track record in developing talented young footballers from a very early age and then selling them to clubs worldwide. Just look at what the nation of only three and a half million people has done in football and the influx of world-class players from Uruguay, all sold at great profit. These include Edison Cavani, José Gimenez, Diego Godín, Luis Suárez, Darwin Núñez, Diego Forlán, Paolo Montero, Enzo Francescoli, among others.”

As such, Frank believes that Garuda can certainly follow these pathways by placing particular emphasis on “scouting young talented children from the Kampungs of Indonesia and developing their ball mastery skills.” This way, they have a ready pool of players who are primed for football not just in Indonesia but abroad.

Image Credits: Frank Amadio

The next major step for the club is to participate in Liga 3, the third tier of Indonesian football, within the next two years. In an ideal world, Garuda Lions would begin their tenure in the Indonesian football pyramid with a squad full of academy graduates. However, filling up a complete squad in such a short period may prove to be a tall order. Instead, Frank explains that the Liga 3 squad will initially have a mixture of Garuda Lions Academy prospects and other free agents who are talented enough to make the cut.

Regardless, Frank firmly believes that Garuda Lions will participate in Liga 1 in the not-too-distant future, with the majority of players consisting of those underprivileged children who have emerged from the Garuda Lions Academy.

Fighting Against The Odds But A Strong Sense of Hope

“For now, the main challenge for Garuda Lions F.C is short-term financial support.,” Frank points out. “I have all the resources ready. From UEFA Pro-Coaches to an influx of hungry, determined local players, we have it all. We also have had interest from TV companies like USEETV-INDIHOME who are looking into the possibility of streaming our games live and even possibly creating an ongoing Garuda Lions series, showing the growth and development of the club. On top of that, we are currently communicating with the local government about using one of the many local mini-stadiums built purposely for the local community. What we need now is a visionary investor to back us with a small amount of short-term injection of money to expedite the process and help our long-term sustainability goals. “

It has certainly not been a smooth journey but Frank does believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Now I find myself in the world of football, trying to achieve something,” he reflects. “I have been told many times I am crazy to attempt what I am doing or that it is impossible and will never succeed. However, I am not the only person in history who has been told this and succeeded. Deep in my heart, I know I will build Garuda Lions up from the grassroots for underprivileged children and turn it into one of the most successful teams in Asia. All the elements needed to do so are here in Indonesia and in many countries in Asia. Perhaps, it’s a lack of self-belief and long-term focus by those in power that Asian countries are not succeeding in football as I firmly believe they should be.”

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