Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Agu Casmir's mysterious Indonesian 'adventure'

The fan club of Indonesian League club Persija Jakarta has finally commented on the strange case of Nigerian-Singaporean player Agu Casmir. A citizen of Singapore since 2004, Casmir was a member of the Singapore team which won the Tiger Cup regional football championship in 2005 but was a disappointment in the country's SEA Games campaign in the Philippines.

Dropped from the national team, the 21-year-old stunned Singapore's small football fraternity by signing with one of Indonesia's leading clubs, Persija, for 2006. But on 16 January, despite receiving a US$20,000 sign-on fee (reportedly representing 10% of his total salary package) he failed to turn up at the airport to meet his agent and disappeared. When contacted in Jakarta, the agent, "who only wanted to be known as Onana J", said that he was hopeful Casmir would still turn up. "He is supposed to be here and I hope that he gets here," Onana told Jose Raymond of Today Online (Singapore).

"This is the last thing we expected from a Singapore footballer. It is so unprofessional. His credentials were so good and we thought that we had signed a top striker," Persija coach Rachmad Darmawan told Raymond. "He was here last Thursday, signed a mega deal with us and we kept to our end of the bargain. But he is not here and we are very shocked that he has not even bothered to call us to explain what is happening."

Darmawan said that the club would file a report with the world football body FIFA if Casmir failed to turn up. "We have his International Transfer Certificate now, so he has to answer to us. We could also take further action, like terminate his contract because of his no-show and demand that the sign-on fee be returned to us. We are just hoping that this is all a major misunderstanding," said Darmawan.

Football Association of Singapore general secretary John Koh said he was "worried" about Casmir. "He did not inform us that he wanted to leave Singapore but when we got a request from his Indonesian club to release his ITC, we did because he was a free agent and has reached an agreement with his new club," he confirmed.

It was consequently reported in The Straits Times (19 February) that Casmir had purportedly been in Canada and had no intention of further pursuing a career in football. The report quoted former Woodlands Wellington FC manager, R Vengadasalam, as saying that Casmir was disillusioned with football and had no intention of returning to Singapore. He had taken the contract to prove that he could still command "a US$80,000 annual salary in South-east Asia".

But Casmir not only left Persija without a striker, he also failed to return the sign-on fee. The report said that Casmir acknowledged he took the money but had spent it all.

Hs Indonesian agent, Jules Onana, who "had made a missing-person report to the Singapore police when he was here last month to look for the player," the newspaper remarked, "is now responsible for repaying the fee".

Suddenly, for reasons that become clearer later, Casmir was presented at a press conference by the Football Association of Singapore on 27 February, to announce that he had re-signed with S-League club Woodlands Wellington on a one-year contract, under a deal in which the club would re-pay Persija his signing-on fee. "We know that Agu has made a grave mistake," Rams vice-chairman Francis Gomez told the media. "This is not a charity offer. This is a challenge for the club, for Agu, and for all of us in deciding what to do with people who make mistakes but deserve a second chance." Gomez further added that Casmir would be paid "below his market value" under the deal, but declined to reveal the exact figure of his new signing's salary.

The FAS announced it had suspended Casmir from the national squad for a year and fined him S$20,000, for his behaviour. "I am sorry for my actions, and I want to apologise to Persija, the FAS, and all football fans for causing this embarrassment," the 21-year-old responded. "I promise I will never do this again."

However, the embarrassment to Singapore's professional footballers and regulators was to continue. A week later, Ernest Luis of The New Paper (8 March) asked Casmir three direct questions: "Can he show his passport to prove he left Indonesia for Russia, Canada and England, as he claimed he did when he failed to honour his contract with Indonesian club Persija Jakarta in January. Can he name the clubs he went for trials with in Russia, Canada and England? Finally, can he name the 'London-based' agent whom he claimed last week, lured him to leave Indonesia for these trials?"

According to Luis, Casmir said 'no' to all the questions. "He also claimed he didn't know if the agent is FIFA-licensed. So the mystery surrounding the affair will linger for the rest of the year," Luis reported.

Now, Persija's Jakmania fan club fills in more gaps. Its website reported today that the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) general secretary Nugraha and the vice president of Persija, IGK Manila, had attended a special session of the FAS disciplinary committee to discuss Casmir's breach of contract. The Singaporeans were informed that Casmir had been introduced to the team and its supporters on 11 January and had been paid Rp186 million. He had attended Persija's pre-season training camp but complained that the field was not good enough for him and said he would leave to join a Russian club.

The rest, as they say, is history. But it should be noted that, despite numerous cross-border player transfers within South East Asia, there are currently no FIFA-licensed Player's Agents registered or active in Singapore or Indonesia.

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