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Ghana ace Michael Essien faces culture shock at Persib Bandung in Indonesia

Published on: 12 April 2017

Michael Essien and Carlton Cole will begin their adventures into the unknown this weekend when Indonesia's Liga 1 season kicks off.

But the two former Premier League stalwarts could find life difficult as they try to help Persib Bandung's push for domestic honours.

Persib will host Arema FC in all Javanese battle on Saturday, with the 38,000-capacity Stadion Gelora Bandung Lautan Api likely to be packed to the rafters. It's the opening matchday of the first official season since 2015 when Indonesia was handed a year-long FIFA ban for government interference in football.

The arrival of Essien, 34, and 33-year-old Cole -- along with other high-profile imports like international strikers Peter Odemwingie (Madura United) and Shane Smeltz (Pusamania Borneo FC) -- added to the sense of anticipation and optimism at Monday's official launch in Jakarta. Despite being starved of competitive action for more than 18 months, Indonesia over-achieved to make last December's final of Southeast Asia's AFF Suzuki Cup, losing narrowly 2-0 to Thailand.

But past and present coaches and players are sceptical about how much of an impact Essien and Cole will make as the biggest names to ply their trade in the country of 18,000 islands.

"It's a good idea, but they've gone about it in completely the wrong way," PSM Makassar coach Robert Alberts told ESPN FC. "To bring in Cole and Essien just a couple of weeks before the season makes no sense at all. It will be very difficult for them to adjust to Indonesian football so I'm not sure that they will be able to do it."

The one-time Chelsea teammates came on a second-half substitutes in their Persib debuts in a home friendly against Bali United on April 7. Persib fell to a 2-1 defeat, with neither player looking sharp; Essien received a yellow card after lashing out at an opponent who was sent off after kicking a ball into the Ghanaian.

"They will need to control their emotions, because refereeing here is a lot different to Europe. Over there, if someone kicks you in the ankles, it's a free kick, but in Indonesia they usually allow it," said Alberts, who is a former junior and reserve team player with Ajax.

"The also have to understand the reality here that, unlike Europe, when you pass the ball, you may not get it back. So, for a striker like Carlton Cole, he won't get the kind of balls that he's used to getting."

But challenges off the field could be even greater to overcome for the new arrivals, according to Mario Karlovic, who was an import player with Indonesian clubs Minangkabau FC and Persebaya Surabaya in 2010-13.

"Essien and Cole are stepping into a culture shock, and the travel for the away games is one of the most gruelling experiences they will come across," Karlovic told ESPN FC.

"The expectations are huge for imports, especially them. You are meant to carry the team each week and expected to play, injured or not. And coping with the heat will play a major factor in their success."

Another Australian Robbie Gaspar, who played for Persib Bandung in 2011-12, put a more positive spin on their chances, pointing out that Persib are one of the best Indonesian clubs they could have chosen.

"They're stepping into a great club, with a great culture. The city is football mad, a fantastic place to live and play. They will love it, and thrive on it," Gaspar said.

"They will be surprised by how knowledgeable and passionate the fans are. And like Chelsea, Persib are the Blues. The fans bleed blue, and they're the biggest club in Indonesia supporter-wise, with two or three thousand fans to watch training."

Essien will be earning a reported €800,000 per year, making him Liga 1's highest-paid player.

When he was in search of a defensive midfielder last month, Alberts was offered Essien by an agent before he signed with Persib. Instead, PSM opted for 23-year-old Marc Klock, a Dutch journeyman whose most recent clubs include Oldham Athletic and Dundee.

"Essien was offered to me first, but €800,000 is more than my entire budget. We can't afford that, which is why I went for another defensive midfielder at a very low budget who's played at a decent level," Alberts said.

"As much as Essien and Cole are good players, I don't think it makes sense for clubs to spend this kind of money, at the last moment, on imports who aren't used to the conditions here."

Alberts' PSM are due to play Persib Bandung in July. By then, he should have a good idea whether passing on the man who won 12 major trophies in European football, including the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League, was a good idea or not.

Source: ESPN

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