Aleksandar Jovanovic relishing Jeju United return

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The well-travelled Australian has made a rare work trip back to the land of his birth but considers his K League club like a second home


Sydney-born defender Aleksandar Jovanovic might be living 8000 kilometres from his hometown, but he insists he's right at home on the South Korean island of Jeju.

Jovanovic returned to South Korea last month, rejoining Jeju United after a one-year stint in the Chinese Super League (CSL).

The Australian centre-back became a fan favourite at Jeju in 2014 and 2015, playing 53 K League matches for the club, and has clearly settled back into life on the small island.


Jovanovic could make the first appearance of his second Jeju stint when Jo Sung-hwan's side visit Adelaide United in the AFC Champions League (ACL) on Wednesday.

"I love life in Korea, it's really grown on me," the 27-year-old told Goal.

"From friends, to the best attractions and restaurants, especially in Jeju, it really is an amazing country."

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Jovanovic's career has followed the theme of 'a road less travelled'.

The towering defender - he stands at 1.96 metres - started his career at Parramatta Eagles before moving to Serbia in 2008 as an 18-year-old.

Aleksandar Jovanovic Jeju United

After four years with various Serbian outfits, Jovanovic took advantage of his Australian passport and the 3+1 import rule used in many Asian nations, finding his way to South Korea after a period in Thailand.

A promising 2013 with second-tier Suwon FC impressed Jeju, while Jovanovic took the opportunity to join the growing CSL last year with Tianjin Teda.

"It had its good moments and its bad moments," he said of his year in China.

"If I didn't go then I wouldn't ever have gone just simply because of the new ruling in China. So I'm pleased I went when I did, to get more experience in Asia and putting it on my CV I think it's a good thing."

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Much has been said and written about the rise of Chinese football but speaking from experience, Jovanovic says there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"It's still developing," he said.

"They're bringing in these big name players, but I think the reliance on these three big players to carry the whole team is something I feel is not enough, you need the whole eleven players to be doing their job.

"The gap between the big players and the Chinese players is still too far. I think the Chinese players need to develop, and they're going in the right direction, so I feel in time it will be a lot stronger league."

Jeju United sign Jovanovic

While he had other offers on the table, Jovanovic had no hesitation in returning to Jeju when the opportunity arose.


"I have a good relationship with the captain of Jeju [Oh Ban-suk], and we'd been in contact and he was telling me that this is the strongest that he's seen Jeju since he's played there, which gave me a bit of motivation to come back," he said.

"We could be fighting for the K League title, the FA Cup and with the [AFC] Champions League I'm hoping that we pass the group stage, and we'll see what happens from there."

Jeju United, with just one title to their name, is not traditionally one of the K League's powerhouse clubs, but caused a ripple across Asia a fortnight ago when they dismantled Gamba Osaka 4-1 in Japan, capped by a wonder goal from young midfielder Lee Chang-min.

Wins over Incheon United and Ulsan in the first two rounds of the K League season also see them sit atop the table, and Jovanovic credits their strong early season form to the depth of their squad.

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"At training everybody is under pressure to perform, if they don't perform the coach will change the player in that position and he'll do a good job, if not better job than the player who was there," the Australian said.

"So everyone is always on their toes and putting in 110 per cent, everyone knows they have to perform because everyone is fighting for position."

Having only arrived in Jeju three weeks before the new season, Jovanovic is yet to feature in 2017 but is happy to bide his time knowing his chance will come.

"I arrived very late on February 8 and I didn't do any pre-season with the team, and with my Chinese team I didn't do any pre-season (either), so I didn't do anything practically for three months," he explained.

"So the coach knew about that and he said 'you need a bit of time to get back into the team,' which is fair enough, so I'm just training hard and waiting for my chance.

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"I feel like I don't need to prove myself to anyone in Jeju, I've played there already for two years, I still know all the coaches, all the players, and everyone knows who I am."

Jovanovic is hopeful, however, of returning to the starting line-up against the Reds - for sentimental reasons if nothing else.

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"I'm hoping, simply because my family is down from Sydney. But if I don't, I won't be upset, I'll just put my head down and keep training hard and my time will come," the well-travelled defender said.

It would be a rare opportunity for his family to watch Jovanovic play, with the central defender having lived outside Australia for almost a decade.


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