By Ben Somerford | Asian Football Editor
South Korea-based defender Robbie Cornthwaite says the A-League's current instability is making Asia a more attractive option for Australian players.
The 26-year-old joined K-League club Chunnam Dragons from Adelaide United in March last year and after a fine debut campaign in Korea, recently penned a new three-year contract.
Cornthwaite is one of many Australians playing in the K-League, alongside team-mate Matt Simon, Busan's Matt McKay, Suwon's Eddy Bosnar, Gyeongnam's Luke DeVere, Jeju's Adrian Madaschi, Incheon's Nathan Burns and Seongnam's Sasa Ognenovski. There is also a growing band of Australians in China, including ex-Socceroo Mile Sterjovski, Dino Djulbic, Rostyn Griffiths, Milan Susak and Joel Griffiths.
Speaking to Goal.com, Blackburn-born Cornthwaite said the A-League's recent instability, which has seen expansion clubs North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United axed from the competition and the Newcastle Jets facing an uncertain future, has increased the lure of Asia for Australian players.
“The way things are going in the A-League a lot of players are looking towards Asia, obviously you can get some good money compared to the A-League,” he said.
“Also with a little bit of uncertainty with some of the clubs, there's a lot more security over here with massive financial backers with people who are happy to throw their money around a bit.”
|“The way things are going in the A-League a lot of players are looking towards Asia... there's a lot more security over here with massive financial backers”
- Cornthwaite on Asia's lure for A-League talent
Cornthwaite said he has loved his move to Chunnam, where he believes being thrown out of his comfort zone has seen him play his best football after six years at home club Adelaide.
“I thought coming over to the K-League was probably the best thing I'd done in my career,” he said. “I was a little bit stagnant at Adelaide and probably wasn't having one of the best times over the last 12-18 months.
“Coming over here has reinvigorated me. Last year I was working really hard on my game and was playing some of the best football I've ever played, a lot of the reports here in the K-League were positive. The club gave me a new three-year contract and so far my time here has been wonderful.”
He added: “Obivously I've always played in Adelaide. That's my home city and comfort zone with all my friends and family, so coming over to Korea was a new challenge.
“Everything's different, the language, the lifestyle. I've just embraced the challenge. I'm speaking a bit of Korean, I've got a lot of Korean friends. I think I'm pretty well respected within the team and that's all contributred to me enjoying my football and playing really well.”
Cornthwaite admitted the growing band of Australians in Korea had helped him settle too, revealing he regularly kept in touch with his K-League compatriots. However, Cornthwaite, who recently missed two games with a minor groin problem, said not everything had gone smoothly for all the Australians this term.
“The funny thing at the moment, last week, beside Matty McKay and Eddy Bosnar, all the Aussies were injured,” he said. “I gave a few messages to see how the boys are going to see how their injuries are coming along so it's good to have that support base.”
Chunnam team-mates | Cornthwaite and Simon face off in their A-League days
Cornthwaite continued on, stating that Ognenovski's success at Seongnam Ilhwa, where he lifted the 2010 Asian Champions League before winning the AFC Player of the Year award and becoming a regular Socceroo, had made K-League clubs more interested in Australian players, particularly big central defenders with ex-Busan man Iain Fyfe, DeVere, Madaschi and Bosnar alongside him in that department.
“[Ognenovski] set a fantastic platform for the Australian players, so the next year myself, DeVere and Fyfey came over. Me and DeVere played almost every game, while Fyfey did quite well when he got his chance,” he said.
“All the Aussie centre-backs have had success, now this year they've got Matt McKay, Nathan Burns and Matty Simon as strikers, so fingers crossed they do well for their teams.”
As for his own ambitions, Cornthwaite said he was not too fazed about a European move despite seeing team-mate Ji Dong-Won last season land a big switch to English Premier League club Sunderland. Cornthwaite instead insisted he was content in South Korea with Chunnam, but one day would love to play for one of the K-League's big clubs.
“I was born in England, so I've got the European passport but I saw Europe as something you dream about when you're a bit younger. As time went on I started to see Asia as a more viable option,” he said.
“Now I'm here I'm quite happy. I've signed a new three-year contract at Chunnam and by the time that's run out i'll still only be 29. Who knows after that, I'd like to one day play for one of the big teams in Korea, Suwon or Seoul or someone like that.
“If I continue to progress the way I'm going then I don't think that's an unrealistic expectation if I keep my feet on the ground and keep working hard.”
|"I'd like to one day play for one of the big teams in Korea, Suwon or Seoul or someone like that”
- Cornthwaite on his future ambitions
One point of negativity in the K-League in recent times has been the competition's match-fixing scandal which broke shortly after Cornthwaite's arrival in Gwangyang. The ex-Adelaide defender admitted that had initially concerned him, but believed steps were being taken to stamp it out and was positive on the future of the K-League.
“It was a bit of a worry for me, not understanding exactly what was going on,” he said. I was speaking with my Korean agent and he was explaining a few things, it seems like the majority of it was in 2010, the year before I came.
“Last year they really stamped it out as much as they could, there was 20-30 players involved, some went to jail, some received life bans and some unfortunately took their lives.
“They seem to have cleaned it up a bit. It's unfortunate it does happen around the world in Italy and China, but all the things I've experienced in the K-League have been positive.”