HOMECOMING KING. The current soccer “It” boy, Raphael Maitimo took the Indonesian soccer world by storm with his arrival. To Olivia Hidajat, he chats about the return to his roots, the dark side of the glamorous life and playing against his home country for Indonesia’s national soccer team.
Outfit by Canali
Although bedecked in an unassuming grey T-shirt and a pair of simple mesh shorts, Raphael Maitimo—looking every bit the professional soccer player—stands out among the crowd. Charming and polite yet a tad standoffish at first glance, the serious soccer player’s reservations gradually melt away as he talks about his childhood memories of soccer and how the news of the national team recruitment came about.
“When I was six years old, my parents wanted me to play a sport and asked what I liked. Soccer was the one I liked the most, so I started playing soccer. Soon, it became clear that I had some talent in soccer,” answers Maitimo when asked where his love for soccer comes from. Born in Rotterdam, Holland, Maitimo grew up with small town values and a disciplined approach to life. Recognizing the value of hard work at an early age paid off as it led to several offers to play for professional soccer clubs in his home country. After a brief stint playing for China League One, he was invited to join Tim Nasional Indonesia (the Indonesian national soccer team) in 2010.
Top by Lanvin
“As a football player, it’s everybody’s dream to play for a national team. That was the main reason why I chose to join the Indonesian team. And this is very special to me because I have Indonesian roots,” the enigmatic athlete gushes, beaming with pride. His arrival was something of a homecoming, as Maitimo’s roots trace back to Indonesia, starting from his grandfather who is a Padang native. Despite his familial affinity with the tropical isles, certain adjustments to a different lifestyle and culture are inevitable, and the Dutch-born player faces the challenges of becoming a foreign member to a new team head-on. When asked about the most difficult hurdle to overcome, Maitimo is nothing but frank. “As a European, I have to change my mindset and adapt to the Indonesian way of working. I have to perform well because I’m still a foreigner. With my teammates, I respect them and do right by them. There’s a lot of weight on my shoulders, but at the end of the day I learned a lot.”
Outfit by Louis Vuitton
Leading a life under the harsh spotlight of the media, the challenges of working in a foreign land extend to life outside the team and into the ugly world of social media. With brutal criticisms being the usual sight on Twitter, Maitimo calmly dismisses the comments and never loses sight on his goal. “I just ignore [the negative comments] and try to show them there’s a reason why I’m playing for the national team. If people like me, I’m grateful. But if they don’t, that’s OK. I have to respect other people’s opinion, because their opinion is their opinion.”
Peering into the gilded windows from the outside, the glamorous days and nights of a soccer player seem overflowed with champagne and caviar. With achievement and fame come much sought-after endorsement deals and, in Maitimo’s case, Clear came knocking on his door bearing good news during his second year in Indonesia. Proposed with an admirable Ayo Indonesia Bisa initiative, the shampoo brand launched a web campaign and seeks support from the Indonesian public in a petition with a goal of having the Indonesian national soccer team undergo invaluable training sessions with the coach of the wildly popular British soccer team Manchester United. As a nation of soccer fanatics, the campaign proved to be a success, and the public’s response was favorable.
Trousers by Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci
The levelheaded athlete, in fact, is no stranger to the spotlight and the blinding flash of cameras. In his youth, Maitimo dabbled in modeling. Although big fashion labels like Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, and United Colors of Benetton grace the pages of his portfolio, Maitimo remains firmly planted on the ground and sees the glitzy lifestyle as a mere distraction and amusing aspect of the job. When asked if life in the limelight is indeed as enchanting as it seems, Maitimo replies with his usual candor, “For me, [the lifestyle] is a part of the job. I’m a role model for many people and my main job is to be a professional athlete and not a model or an actor, so I have to focus on that. I signed a one-year contract with Clear, and it’s good for me. I’ve worked hard for this, so when I get an endorsement deal, I’ll take it.”
Indeed, the life of a soccer player is not always a bed of roses. Much-loved as the sport is, its players still have to peel through layers of prejudices and stereotypes of rowdy behavior and lavish lifestyles associated with the profession. “In general, there’s the perception that many soccer players are not very well educated. But because my parents always said it is very important, I have always tried to follow through on my education,” explains the serious soccer player while he slips into a tailored jacket for the photoshoot. “I have a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Rotterdam in Holland. And because I had the opportunity to follow a special program for professional athletes, I pursued degrees in both commerce and sports marketing and management. I also have many intelligent friends who are soccer players.”
In Maitimo’s case, overcoming prejudices is not only an external challenge. Cultural and professional differences sometimes seep into his more private life, into the internal dynamic of his team. When the subject switches to team interactions and the other players in the team, he coolly clarifies, “I have no problems with my teammates. I’m very professional when it comes to that. I try to focus on the games and the training, and try to be respectful to everybody. Hopefully they feel the same way. I’m closer to some teammates than others, but that’s normal. That’s life.”
Turtleneck, trousers and shoes by Hermès
Living a bi-continental life and having an athletic profession where international matches are regular occurrences, chance meetings with figures from his past are bound to happen. In June 2013 while playing against his former soccer team in Holland, Maitimo had the opportunity to play a match against his old teammates. Among them are Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. “I’m close to Ruben van Persie. I keep in touch with him,” the footballer exclaims with a smile as he reminisces about his past soccer life in Europe. Asked about the much talked-about game, Maitimo has nothing but good things to say. “Of course when we were on the field, everybody wanted to win, so we had to be professional. But it was a friendly match, and we respected everybody. We weren’t out for blood. Let’s just put it that way.”
Still an outsider in the world of Indonesian soccer, the passionate athlete has high hopes for the future of the beloved sport and sees potential in many Indonesian soccer players. Turning suddenly chatty, he talks about his view as a foreign player, looking in. “From what I see, I know that, individually, Indonesians have a lot of potential, but soccer is a team sport. There have to be improvements in playing as a team, and you have to be organized and play in a disciplined manner,” he explains. “Those are the main things to be successful and to get an opportunity to qualify for the World Cup. If we can improve in those fields, for sure Indonesia will have a chance in the future.”
When not on the field or undergoing intense training for a match, Maitimo splits his time between Holland and Indonesia. “I see my friends and family when I go back to Holland. It’s very important to me to spend a lot of time with them even when I have a lot of things going on,” says the tanned athlete. “I don’t want to give them the idea that I’ve forgotten them. They’re still in my heart, and I want to show them that I’m still here.”
Outfit by Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci
In Indonesia, Maitimo is still adapting to the new environment and spends most of his time in Bali’s Seminyak area where he unwinds and gets some much-needed R&R. Aside from his passion for sports, he also explores his interest in the culinary arts during his downtime, testing his skills in churning out pasta dishes and high-protein foods. Growing fonder of his new residence, he wonders whether his return to his grandfather’s native country was serendipitous. “Maybe because I have Indonesian family members, sometimes I really feel like an Indonesian. But there are times when I feel like a foreigner. I don’t know how to explain that,” he muses as the interview comes to an end. “And of course, you always want to know where you come from.”
Check out the behind-the-scene video:
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