Michael Essien and Carlton Cole are facing problems in Indonesia after their new club admitted it had not obtained work permits for the ex-English Premier League players.
The two were signed with great fanfare last month by Persib Bandung, one of the country’s best clubs, in a boost for Indonesian football as it seeks to bounce back from a FIFA suspension and launch a new league.
But the club is now set to be questioned by immigration authorities after the government-backed Professional Sports Agency found the players did not have the required work permits.
The club admitted Monday the players, who made their debuts in the country’s new top-flight Liga 1 at the weekend, did not yet have the necessary documents.
Persib said it had sought to process the paperwork a few days before their first match. The permits were not ready on time, but the football association and league organiser gave them permission to play.
Manager Umuh Muchtar accused the sports agency, which reports to the government and monitors foreign players in the country, of going too far.
“That they are here is a joy for us, they want to raise up Indonesia’s name in the world,” he said.
He added: “Everybody knows that Essien is a world-class player, not an illegal immigrant.” Immigration authorities Monday summoned the club management but it was not clear when the questioning would take place.
Immigration official Agustianur, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said: “They are professionals so they must hold a (work) permit to perform activities in Indonesia.” The official did not indicate what next steps authorities may take.
Essien, who is Ghanaian, has played for Chelsea, AC Milan and Real Madrid. England’s Cole has played for Chelsea and West Ham.
Liga 1 replaces an old top-level league, which was halted in 2015 due to a row between the government and Indonesian FA that triggered turmoil and led to the country being hit with a one-year ban by FIFA.
The new league and big-name signings are a major boost for football in Southeast Asia’s biggest nation, which has faced problems for years.