Indonesian authorities on Tuesday banned Michael Essien and Carlton Cole from playing until they get work permits after their new club did not obtain the necessary documents 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 government-backed Professional Sports Agency found the players did not have the required work permits.
The club admitted they had not finished processing the paperwork for the pair before they made their debuts in the country's new top-flight Liga 1 at the weekend.
After calling in the players and Persib's management for questioning, immigration authorities said Tuesday the pair would not be able to play until they obtained the permits.
"Today we gave a strong warning to Persib in the form of a letter saying that as long as Persib had not completed the permits, which should be issued by the manpower ministry, we are banning Essien and Cole from playing," said Maulia Purnamawati, the immigration chief in Bandung, the city where the club is based.
Persib said they would abide by the ban while working to get the permits. Joko Driyono, the secretary general of the country's football association, said they would help the club in obtaining the documents.
Persib said it had sought to process the paperwork a few days before the stars' first match on Saturday. The permits were not ready on time, but the football association and league organiser gave them permission to play.
Driyono told AFP the association had granted permission for Persib to field Essien and Cole over the weekend because the process to get the permits was "not easy nor fast".
Club 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."
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.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)