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Player Profile: Asnawi Mangkualam

Ansan Greeners' Indonesian signing Asnawi Mangkualam has caused quite a sensation on social media. With him now being available for selection after a period of self-quarantine, will he be able to create as much of an impact on the field? 
(Photo Credit: Ansan Greeners Press Release)

The decision to bring 21-year-old Indonesian international Asnawi Mangkualam from Indonesian Liga 1 side PSM Makassar to the K League brought a lot of attention to a club that placed 7th in the K League 2 last season. Much was made of Asnawi being the first Indonesian professional footballer to make the move to the Korean peninsula, with the youngster's signing seeing the Greeners quickly shot to the top of the “most Instagram followers” table. To find out more about whether or not it was a clever marketing strategy or if Asnawi arrives to bring some much-needed quality to the Greeners side, I talked to Jakarta based Martini S. Sos, reporter at Indonesian sports website Indosport.com.

A Rising Star

Looking back at Asnawi’s past performances, Martini noted the steady progression of his career. Being born in Makassar, he came through the ranks at the PSM Makassar Academy, before breaking into the first team in 2017. He became more trusted under coach Ditch Robet Rene Alberts, who played for Vancouver Whitecaps and has coached the Korean U-19s, and went onto make 14 appearances in 2018, and 18 in 2019 under another coach Darije Kalezic, who has since become head coach at Maastricht. Clearly this rise was noted, and PSM Makassar rewarded Asnawi with a strong salary, higher even than what Ansan offered. He has of course, decided to ply his trade in one of Asia's most competitive leagues.

Owner Munafri Arifuddin still holds him in high regard and hopes he returns to Makassar after his time in Ansan. Martini reflects this appreciation in her own estimation of Asnawi, describing his positional change from midfield to defence, indicating his ability to learn quickly, a vital skill when moving to a new league, also noting that “he is strong and has a competitive sense. On the field, Asnawi is a disciplined player, never gets a red card, but also has good playing statistics. And outside the field, Asnawi is a low profile player, he has a good attitude, and keeps food intake so that he is physically fit. There is not much drama like other young Indonesian players, he's also maintaining professionalism on social media. I think he is one of the best Indonesian players to see by young players.” Of particular accolade is Shin Tae-yong, former South Korean international and current head coach of the Indonesian national side, identifying him as a favourite player.


Adapting to the K League

One of the big questions then is how he will adapt to the K League. Martini notes that Liga 1 fans are more fanatical in Korea and crowds are larger, with a stronger connection to the players. However, former Daejeon Citizen goalkeeper Yoo Jae-hoon, who played for five different Indonesian sides, had some advice for Asnawi, noting the speed and physicality of the K league compared to Liga 1, and also the presence of a lot of internationals and players who are playing or have played at the highest level in club football.

This physicality is of particular concern, as Martini notes “Asnawi may be too small to have an impact on the K League.” However he also brings some unique advantages, including a “unique style of play, speed, strong defending”, his bringing of the style of the “Indonesian game might give a different understanding to the Korean people, especially in Ansan Greeners, they can play with different tactics, are not easily predicted by the opponent.” Perhaps Asnawi’s strongest asset is that playing at a competitive level is nothing new, given that he has represented Indonesia from U-16 level and is now a full international at just 21-years-old. 

Asnawi in training
Photo Credit: Ansan Greeners FC

Media Spotlight

Of course, with all the media attention, and that added interest in Ansan Greeners both from Indonesia and from the city’s own migrant population, attention turns to the interest in Asnawi within the country. Martini remarks: “Indonesian people are very proud when Asnawi join the Ansan Greeners in K League. We feel that our young players have the quality to compete with other players at the Asian level. Many of us immediately follow Ansan's social media and find out their match schedule.” This has been further bolstered by the first-ever TV deal being struck between the K League and an Indonesian broadcaster. Martini points out that there may be many Greeners fans in the making, charting the following that Egy Maulana Vikri, who joined Polish side Lechia Gdansk in 2018, and Witan Sulaeman, who joined Serbian side Radnik Surdulica in 2020. Simply put, if Asnawi plays, Indonesia will watch!


Opening Doors

Finally, has Ansawi paved the way for more Indonesian players to make their way to the K League and other East Asian leagues such as the J.League and the Chinese Super League? Martini thinks so, stating that “It seems that after Asnawi, there will be several young Indonesian players playing in the East Asian leagues, such as in Korea, China and Japan, especially as long as Shin Tae-yong is still the coach of the Indonesian national team. Shin Tae Yong, as an experienced coach in Asia, can make recommendations for overseas teams to recruit Indonesian players.”

The conversation ends with some reflection on the disappointment that Asnawi missed the 2021 Ansan season unveiling and the opening game against Gimcheon Sangmu due to the team’s decision to impose a two-week quarantine after he visited a place that had also been visited by a COVID-positive case. However, Martini reflected on the impressive health protocols of the K League that have allowed football to continue.

Asnawi is training again with the first team and is eligible for the away trip to Anyang on March 5th. He may also make his home debut against Gyeongnam on March 13th. 

We'd like to thank Martini for their insight in writing this piece. Martini S. Sos is a Sports Reporter at PT. Media Sport Indonesia

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