Rooted Rochi

by Reno NismaraJun 15, 2021

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A Printscreen interview with Rochi Putiray, an icon of Indonesian football known for being a threat to defences and his dripping signature style on and off the pitch.

An audience with Rochi Putiray is all about meeting expectations. Witnessing first-hand the charisma and eccentricity which earned the respect of his opponents and admiration of Indonesian, even Asian, football fans throughout his three-decade-long career.

With his tied hair, half-frame round sunglasses, and, of course, the different coloured shoes adorning his feet, Rochi sticks out like a sore thumb in a crowd; capturing the attention of everyone he passes by at the Blok A area in South Jakarta, where we met late last year.

It’s the same thing whenever he’s on the pitch. Spectators, either from the stadium or behind a TV screen, usually found it easy to pick him out due to his conspicuous appearance, especially since he liked to change the colours of his hair. But even though he’s easily detected, it doesn’t mean that his opponents could always hold him up. Rochi has an incredible eye for goal, tearing nets with his roaring goals, be it for Arseto Solo, Persija, or even Kitchee SC (Hong Kong), where he scored two goals against a Paolo Maldini-led AC Milan side.

“This eccentric look I’ve adopted is part of my way to motivate myself,” Rochi explains, admitting that he took inspiration from John Banting’s iconic character in the Daia detergent commercials. “At the time I was feeling bored, unmotivated, because I always get selected to play. There was no challenge. So, I decided to colour my hair to challenge myself to manage a style, so, I wouldn’t do it just out of looking cool”.

Nowadays, Rochi spends most of his time training others. He owns the R21 Academy in Solo, develop players at the SSB Gelora Putra centre in Jakarta, trains non-league club Jakarta 69, and coach young Papuan side Waana Bintuka FC (WBFC) — currently a U-16 side — who are based in Bandung.

He even managed to guide WBFC to third place at the international IberCup 2019 tournament in Portugal — using the team name Timnas Pelajar U-16 Kemenpora (The Sports Ministry’s U-16 Student National Team), even though Rochi claimed that the ministry “did not give a single dime”. The result gave the team a chance to participate in the higher-level of the tournament; getting the opportunity to play against academy teams of global clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester United. However, like everything else in the world, the tournament had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rochi loves WBFC with all his heart. He holds a great amount of respect and appreciation for the club’s management, thankful at the opportunity given to him. “I was asked by the management team to improve the club’s coaching program, requested to participate in online coaching class. Give myself an education on modern football, so that the kids can become better players,” he said, enthusiastically. “I learned that when you want to help others, you must have the capability to help them fully.”

Rochi claims that the experience helped him to become a better person. “I learned more in the one year I spent coaching than I ever did in my playing career between 1987 and 2018,” he said.

It’s no surprise that he was very calm during our interview with him (held in tandem with a photo shoot for a jersey made collaboratively by Studiorama, Table Six, and Casual Fan Club). In the time we spent with Rochi, we learned a lot of things about the man, from his childhood in Ambon, to his regrets as a footballer, to his views and experiences with racism.

“My family taught me to become religious person, while also encouraging me to become a football player. My dad played for PON Ambon in Solo and my elder brother played for Suryanaga Surabaya and NIAC Mitra. We even had a family team: the Putiray Brothers. It was made up of our family members — nine guys, five girls — plus our cousins. We would usually bicker about small things, such as which position we want to play or what number we want to wear. We want to get what we want. It turns out, being used to that kind of attitude taught me to never hold back and never show your opponents any fear. For example, whenever I took on some of Ambon’s senior players, the idea was ‘they hit me, I hit them back’.

My surroundings also influenced my interest in football. Sports tournaments in Ambon of any kind would usually run for the whole week, be it football or tug of war. But when the final day came, all other sports would be devoid of spectators. Everyone would go and watch football.

I also played basketball for a while, even getting called up for a draft in Ragunan. This was because my school, SMP Xaverius, was mostly attended by Chinese kids, and their favourite sport was basketball. You really had no choice but to play it. What I learned from that experience, and also throughout my career, was that adapting to new environments is important and I observed that Indonesian footballers tend to have a hard time adapting. Egy [Maulana Vikri], who’s playing in Poland right now, for example. If he can adapt there, he will definitely be a success. That’s what I learned at SMP Xaverius. There was only basketball. What else could I do? Force them to play football? At the time, not a lot of Chinese wanted to play football.

So anyway, our basketball team managed to play in a high school tournament, even though we were a junior high team. I was chosen as the best player and was called up for a draft in Ragunan. At the same time, I was also called up for the PSSI Garuda 2 draft. In the end, I chose football.”

“The only difference between the Rochi Putiray of then and the Rochi of now is probably just the age. I still enjoy playing football. The match atmosphere between then and now is also pretty much the same and people still watch football enthusiastically. Oh, another difference is probably the fact that I can control my emotions better now, because as a coach, I need to set an example for my players.

When I was a player, I got triggered easily. Usually towards foreign players, who often get treated differently by clubs or referees. When an Indonesian player protests the referee and says, ‘You stupid ref!,’ they’d definitely get carded. But when a foreign player berates the ref, they don’t get carded. That gets my blood boiling. But its never more than that, I held no ill will towards them. Arguments happen on the pitch. But even though I was easily triggered, I only managed to get carded twice in my entire career.”

“I always wake up at 5 a.m. The players train from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. If I feel that wasn’t enough exercise, I do fitness in the afternoon. Then between 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., I train the kids again. At night, we unwind at basecamp.

During my playing years, teams wouldn’t usually hold spiritual or religious activities. Here at WBFC, me and the management held them. So every night at around 8 or 9, we hold prayer sessions. The Muslims pray on the top floor, the Christians on the bottom floor.”

“I’m easily motivated. When I see that another player has an outstanding quality or trait, I also try to have it. It doesn’t mean I’m trying to become them, but at least I have something good that they have. On the other hand, I also feel that I need a trait or quality that nobody else has. If another player can do it, then I can also do it. But what I have, not everybody can do it.

For example, my determination when chasing a stray ball earned me the nickname of ‘Goalkeeper Killer’ in Hong Kong. For a while, rumours even spread in Indonesia that I was using susuk [a form of black magic]. Every time a goalkeeper ran into me, they’d always get substituted. And those weren’t fouls.”

“A lot of people said that my goals against AC Milan were the most memorable, but for me, it was when I played my first international tournament. It was the King’s Cup in Thailand, against Kenya.

I received a cross from Indonesian left-back Abdul Nuru Lestaluhu. He crossed using the outside of his foot from 25 metres, facing the goal. I ran, jumped high over a Kenyan defender, and headed the ball from outside the penalty box, even though I was only as tall as the player’s chest. The ball went into the top corner. I will never forget that.”

“In all my playing years, the most, and probably only, professional team in Indonesia is Mitra Kukar. Their manager at the time, Bang Hendri, was there at the Kitchee vs. AC Milan game in Hong Kong where I scored two goals. He came up to me after the game and said to me, ‘Rochi, I’m putting together a team. When you come back to Indonesia, play for me.’

And he kept his word. He gave me a call when I returned to Indonesia around 2004 or 2005. I became a Mitra Kukar player. I remember I signed the contract at 10 a.m. It was a valuable contract, probably one of the biggest [in Indonesian football] at the time. At 12 p.m., the money immediately appeared in my bank account, in full. It was the first time I received such a thing.”

“The most fun crowd I played for was in Solo. I enjoyed riding becaks in Solo. I remember after Arseto lost a game, I was asked by the becak driver, ‘Rochi, why did you guys lose today? I didn’t work, I didn’t drive this becak, just to watch you play football. But that’s okay, tomorrow’s another day, yes?’

Those words filled me with motivation. And these becak drivers would really stop working just to see Arseto play. I didn’t see that kind of passion in Makassar, or Jakarta. I got that in Solo.”

“I was invited to a trial at Auxerre, but I blew it. At the time, I was 24, and I was being drafted along with kids between 15 to 17 years old. I trained with Taribo West. They trained amazingly. I realized that what Indonesian players lacked was not skill, but the mentality and character. So when you have a weak mentality, and are unable to adapt, your character becomes weak.

But then, the people at Auxerre said to me: ‘It isn’t wise for us to sign a 24-year-old. Your golden years will likely end after three more years, when you’re 27; 30 at the most. We wouldn’t get the best out of you for long. You see the players here, we contracted them since they were 15.’ From that I understood that they wanted players who were able to stay for at least ten years. When that player is no longer needed, their transfer value may not be much but at least they can recoup their expenses. It was a business decision: they get the players, get as much as they can from them, and not sell for less than what they initially paid.

They added afterwards: ‘If you want to play in the second division, we can help you get into a club and you would be able to play immediately.’ I turned that offer down. I said, ‘No, I want to go home to Indonesia.’ Looking back, that was the wrong decision.

I was able to go to Auxerre in the first place because of ANTV. At the time, I was playing against the Malaysian national team in Surabaya. Their manager was this French guy, a friend of the Auxerre coach. At the same time, there was an international TV competition. They asked ANTV to recommend a player and ANTV showed them clips of me playing. They took me up on that and I was on my way to France. But I was also thinking to myself: ‘If I don’t get selected, that means ANTV won’t take care of me anymore. Who would take care of me while I’m here?’ So I thought, you know, I’ll just go home, even though I received a stipend of US$10,000 a week. I went home, played for Solo, and regretted my decision.

A few years later, Indonesia met Hong Kong at the Asian Cup qualifiers. When we played the first leg in Hong Kong, the score was 1-1, I scored the goal. When Hong Kong came to Indonesia for the second leg, we beat them 4-1, I scored three goals. Afterwards, I met with Instant-Dict player Dejan Antonic, who asked me if I wanted to play in Hong Kong. I immediately took that chance so that I won’t feel the same regret I felt before. So I played in Hong Kong until a personal matter forced me to go back to Indonesia. If that matter were to not happen, I wouldn’t have gone back. That matter involved my girlfriend at the time [laughs]. I went to Hong Kong with her.

That woman, who had a Masters degree, got a job offer by Kitchee’s management as a way to keep me in Hong Kong. One day, we had an argument and one of the things that came out of her mouth was: ‘I’m supposed to be the one who gets a large salary! Not you! I have a Masters degree, for God’s sake!’ Two weeks later, Kitchee offered me a contract extension. But I didn’t want it. I wanted to go home. After that, I never played in Hong Kong again. The club begged me several times to come back and extend my contract, but I didn’t want to. That was the second biggest mistake I made, after Auxerre.”

“One day, my contract at Persija expired and I was due to move to Ujung Pandang. But they wanted me to stay. I was even asked to come to the Jakarta governor’s office; sitting with Mr. Sutiyoso [Jakarta’s then-Governor], Mr. Amadin [Persija’s finance person], and Mr. Aang Suganda, who at one time was the Regent of Kuningan, West Java. We sat down together, all four of us, talking about my contract extension. The deal happened on the spot; we shook hands.

After leaving the governor’s office, Mr. Aang suddenly called me. He said, ‘Rochi, tomorrow we meet at Plaza Indonesia around 10 a.m.’ Persija had a match the next day. I thought that everything was sorted out at the meeting, and all I needed to do was sign and I could go to the training ground. Turns out, he kept on negotiating with me. I said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t we have a deal yesterday?’ He said, ‘Yeah, but Persija are unable to pay you in full. I’ll give you the other 50% under the table, okay?’ I didn’t understand what he meant by ‘under the table’ at the time. He continued, ‘Okay, here’s the thing, Rochi. If you have a Rp300 million contract and a Rp50 million wage, we are only able to pay you Rp150 million and Rp25 million. The rest, you’ll receive under the table. Just take this contract first, we won’t write down the total contract value.’ I responded: ‘Okay, but if Persija doesn’t pay me the rest of the money, how can I press you for the money I was agreed to if you don’t write the full contract value? I don’t want this, it’s not right. We’ve made a deal with Mr. Sutiyoso. That’s what I agreed to. If you don’t want it, then fine.’

It turns out Mr. Aang had a deal with Nirwan Suwarso, Bambang Pamungkas’ agent. That was also the first time Bambang came to Persija. At the time, I had a solid partnership with Widodo [Cahyono Putro, former Persija striker]. Bambang wouldn’t be able to get his preferred position that easily. He’s a great player, but he needed to adapt to mine and Widodo’s playing. In order for Bambang to get in, either me or Widodo had to go. Widodo already signed his contract, I hadn’t. The deal fell through.

Coming home from Plaza Indonesia, I went to Lebak Bulus stadium to watch the Persija game. Mr. Sutiyoso was there, and so was Mr. Amadin and Mr. Aang. Mr. Sutiyoso then asked me: ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ So I explained the entire situation to him and he was furious in the VIP section. I then said to him that I no longer wanted to be in Persija. I wanted to leave, but wasn’t given the permission. In the end, I was loaned out to Persija Timur for a year.”

“Even during my playing years, I’ve always loved helping out younger footballers, be it in Indonesia or Hong Kong. If I see potential in them, I’d always ask them to train with me. Syamsul Chaeruddin and Hamka Hamzah are examples that come to mind. They were my teammates at PSM.

I know some senior players who like to put younger players down. Some of them would say: ‘There’s no need for you to train hard, you’re still young. There’s no place for you on the team yet. Wait until I retire, then you can come in.’ I taught Syamsul and Hamka to say, ‘I want to be in the starting line-up.’ I encouraged them to train more.

Coaches tend to see younger players as full of energy, but without experience. Their tactical understanding and skills are relatively minimal. As a result, coaches tend to rely on older, more experienced players. However, some seniors become aware of this fact, so they become very half-assed in training because they know their positions are secure. So, that’s why I like to encourage the younger players to enhance their abilities. Moreover, when they played well, the team is the one will enjoy the benefits.

And it’s proven: Syamsul and Hamka eventually got into the national team. So, it comes naturally for me; after I retired, I opened an academy, SSB, coached WBFC, and also coached the Jakarta 69 women’s team.”

“The management — lead by Bung Ray Manurung, a Papua-born Medan Chinese — treat their players not just as footballers, but also like their own kids. They understand that young players require a lot of attention.

The fun years happen between the age of 8 to 13. When a player enters age 13 to 16, they must begin to decide where they want to go or what they want to be. While the puberty years, age 16 to 17, are the most crucial years. If you can’t create a good development program, then the kids can’t develop properly. These years are the years where one would discover hanging out with friends, cigarettes, girls. It’s totally natural for them to be like that, but in that process, they could gradually forget about football. A good development program can help these kids through such things in a way that doesn’t dismiss them and also maintains their love for football.

The key is to not develop them solely into professional footballers, but to also develop their characters. When the team takes part in a tournament, then win it, but one of the players gets yellow carded, then the victory won’t really mean anything. We want to teach them life skills. Bung Ray even taught the kids how to use computers. His wife teaches them English. His sibling-in-law teaches them how to cook chicken noodles. 

The management particularly wants to develop the Eastern Indonesian kids, especially the Papuans, to become individuals with character: God-fearing, talented, and smart. We tell the kids that they must become the examples of which others ‘beyond the mountain’ can look up to.

We offer the kids proper contracts, as well. Their contracts can be compared to what professional clubs offer to players, especially from Elite Pro which is the academy managed by PSSI. There are at least three contract clauses worth highlighting.

First, if the player retires as a professional footballer, then they would be guaranteed a house. Second, if a player suffers an injury serious enough to cut short their careers, they are guaranteed a job at Bung Ray’s own company. And the third clause is underlining the fact that we are not just a football team, but also a family. Whatever happens, they will not be forced out of the team. Doing so makes the team more solid.

I’ve also changed a lot under Bung Ray’s guidance. I’ve learned to become more patient, to let go of things more easily, to be more mature, to tone down the ego. I’m not the type of person who lets go easily, and this part of me was changed due to the amazing management.

I’ll give you an example: I once made a strict rule where if a player commits an unnecessary violation on the pitch, they’ll be cut from the team. But Bung Ray questioned me on that: ‘If we cut them from the team, will the replacement be as good as they were? Do we have the time? What do you think will happen to the kids when they get home? Don’t we also have moral responsibilities?’

Honestly, that talk rather frustrated me at first, because all the things he said conflicts with my principles as a coach. But I decided to follow his advice. It turned out, the kids started to become more disciplined and had better attitudes. That’s when I realized that harsh punishments don’t necessarily yield better results. The kids are not perfect. They will make new mistakes. But at least now, we’re trying to help them fix whatever needs to be fixed.”

“Nowadays, younger players have more opportunities to play proper games with the help of initiatives such as the Garuda Select program. But in terms of the playing style, there are no significant changes if you compare them with before, because PSSI do not have good development programs. From early-age training to early-age competitions, nothing they do runs smoothly. This is why football in Indonesia stagnates, because there isn’t a lot of focus given to early-age development.

Early-age development programs will run smoothly if the head — the leader of PSSI — does their job right. I have one philosophy: if the head is good, then the neck, body, and tail will also be good. It all comes from the head. Whoever’s in charge of PSSI must think about something other than filling their own pockets. As long as that happens, anybody can make our football better.”

“There’s a lot of talented youngsters over there. One thing I realized when I became a coach is that if we take 100 kids from Eastern Indonesia — Papua, Ambon, etc. — 80 percent of them will have the skill, the pace, and the endurance to play professional football. But if we take 100 kids from Western or Central Indonesia, we’ll only find around 5 to 10 percent that have those.

But there’s also the importance of mentality and character. God gave them brains, but many of them aren’t using it fully. So many tend to just do what they want, instead of what they need. For example, they’d say, ‘I want a beer.’ Their mentality towards that is, ‘Whatever happens, I must have a beer.’ That’s Eastern Indonesia for you. I think that’s their biggest weakness, and it’s my homework to build their characters.

Fortunately, our management team doesn’t only teach them how to play football. Yeah, if you can play football, you don’t need a coach to do that. But what’s important for us is their dedication, attitude, mentality, character, common sense, confidence, and ability to do more good than bad.”

“I’m proud to come from the East. No question. The East is a blessed place. Whenever I’m faced against an opposing team’s racist supporters, I don’t really get affected, I don’t lose my cool. I’ve been called, ‘You, monkey! Just play, no need to show off!’ I remember this one time, a banana was thrown onto the field. I just took the banana and ate it. Eventually, they will come around to me.

I also remember a particular incident when I was at Persija. We were due to take on Persib at Bandung. During our warmups, one of the balls accidentally flew into their supporters. Not a single one of them tried to give it back. So, I climbed the bleachers, and took the ball myself. Doing so, I was pelted with bottles, some of them still full, and so yeah, I just drank them.

On the field, we were playing really well, and eventually won the match. Persib’s supporters acknowledged our performance. The next day, the team was hanging out at a mall and a Persib supporter came up to me and said, ‘You played great yesterday, man. Sorry for the crap we did.’ I was okay with that. They paid to watch the match after all.”

About the Author

Reno Nismara
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The six stitches on his head made him believe that the world is full of sharp edges. Co-founder of the creative collective Studiorama, as well as vocalist and tambourine shaker for a band called Crayola Eyes.
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