Fri, 11 Jun 2004

Withe wants squad to tackle mental aspects of the game

Zakki P Hakim, Jakarta

After being hired to lead Indonesia's U-20 soccer team, Peter Withe said the mental attitude of the team needed to be improved if it hoped to become a strong squad.

The 52-year-old coach from Britain said it was important for him to get to know the mental attitude of every member of his squad.

"The right mental attitude should be that playing soccer is not just a game of kick and run. It's like all the jobs you do ... you need to use your brain. You have to think when playing soccer.

"Soccer is not about always winning. When you improve the standard of soccer all around, winning will come along the way. You have to work hard to win," he told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview.

Withe, a former striker for English Premiership side Aston Villa, had been rumored to be heading to Vietnam to coach the national team before he signed a four-year contract with Indonesia in March.

He signed the contract with the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) after a five-year stint with Thailand from 1998 to 2003, during which time he led the Thai team to fourth place finishes in the Asian Games in 1998 and 2002, and to victory in the Tiger Cup in 2000 and 2002.

The value of his new contract has not been announced, but the PSSI said that Withe was being paid in about the same range as his salary with Thailand, where he was said to receive about US$14,000 a month.

Withe said he accepted Indonesia's offer over those from other countries because of the tremendous desire and commitment on the part of the PSSI, the support of the people and most importantly the support of soccer fans for their teams.

"I noticed in last year's Tiger Cup in Jakarta that hundreds of thousands of people were watching their team. If the national team had this kind of support, it is the nucleus for making the team good," he said.

Withe's main task is to develop the Indonesian U-20 squad into a strong senior team in four years time. His real test will come next September when he leads the team to the Asian Championship in Kuala Lumpur.

Withe has about three years to polish his players in terms of skills as well as mental attitude. The team already looked tough in holding India to a 1-1 draw last week.

Withe said he thought the national team played as well as some of the local premier league clubs. But he said that players still lacked some knowledge and organization.

"At the moment, the mentality here is I am a defender and my job is only defending, you are a striker and your job is only trying to score," he said, adding that whenever the players did not have the ball, they tended to stand still and watch the others play. "On the field you are players not spectators!"

For Withe soccer is a war broken down into 11 individual battles. He said that on the field, there were 11 players and they normally played one-on-one, where defender played against striker, left winger against right winger.

"You have 11 battles. If you win all 11, you might get a 6-0 result. If you win only six battles, then you have a 50-50 chance of winning, while if you win only four battles you will definitely lose by a big score," he said.

"I told the team: You have 11 strikers and 11 stoppers. If you are without the ball, you are all stoppers and if you have the ball, you are strikers," said Withe, who won 11 international caps for England and was a member of the 1982 World Cup team.

Born in Liverpool, Withe began his professional soccer career at the age of 18 at Southport FC, while keeping his day job as an electrician.

"I played soccer in my spare time when friends started suggesting I play professional. So eventually I joined Southport," he said.

Over his career, Withe played for the Wolverhampton Wanderers, U.S. soccer club Portland Timbers, Birmingham City, Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Sheffield United.

He considers his greatest moment as a player the winning goal he scored for Aston Villa in the 1982 European Cup.

Withe also recalls that when he played for Southport he was paid 25 pounds per week, while during the peak of his career as Aston Villa's top striker he received 600 pounds a week, or up to 50,000 pounds plus bonuses per year.

"Nowadays, a player like David Beckham could earn the same amount in two days. I guess I was born at the wrong time," he said.