By Ben Somerford | Asian Football Editor
Five-time Socceroo Adrian Madaschi is one of an ever-increasing legion of Australian central defenders plying their trade in Korea's K-League and he says it's all come about thanks to Qatar-bound Sasa Ognenovski's work at 2010 Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa.
Ognenovski will join Qatari club Umm Salal this week pending a medical, leaving behind the likes of Luke DeVere, Eddy Bosnar, Robbie Cornthwaite and Madaschi as Australian central defenders in the Korean top flight.
Madaschi, 29, penned a two-year deal with island club Jeju United in January, after a long career in Italy before a 10-week guest cameo in his homeland with Melbourne Heart. Almost six months into his Korean stint, 190-centimetre Madaschi spoke with Goal.com and reflected on the level of the K-League as well as Ognenovski's role in opening up new opportunities for tall Australian defenders.
“The standard has been set. The Koreans were impressed by the work Sasa did. They've taken a liking to Australian central defenders, the whole ethos of big strong powerful defender is attractive to Korean football at the moment," Madaschi said.
“They've taken a liking to how Sasa has performed, they've respected that and brought on a few of us other centre backs as well."
|"I think the A-League has come a long way but here is another level. The football is a lot quicker and the passing is sharper but that's no disrespect to the A-League"
- Madaschi compares the leagues
Madaschi's first six months at Jeju, who are currently flying high up in fifth spot, have been interrupted by quad and shoulder injuries which have prevented him from a consistent run of games. The Perth-born defender admits he's been frustrated by the injuries, but has thoroughly enjoyed the switch despite the unfamiliarity of his surrounds, having previously spent all but 10 weeks of his professional career in Europe.
"I'm happy with how things are going, except the injuries," Madaschi said. "The club has a lot of faith in me and have been really good with me. They see me as an important part of the team.”
Madaschi added: “The way the football has been going, it's all positive, but it's just the setbacks with the injuries. They are not recurring injuries, rather freak injuries. It is frustrating... The games that I have played, I've done really well, so I'm happy with that on a personal note."
As for his impressions of the K-League, particular following his brief stint in the A-League, Madaschi is forthright in admitting he's been impressed. "I think the A-League has come a long way but here is another level," Madaschi said.
"The football is a lot quicker and the passing is sharper but that's no disrespect to the A-League which is a growing competition and it'll only get better. There's still a lot of room for improvement, and you've got to take the positives out of that.”
|"My background is more Italian, so the emphasis in Italian football is more on defensive tactics, but here tactically there are certain things they do lack"
- Adrian Madaschi
Madaschi added: “My background is more Italian, so the emphasis in Italian football is more on defensive tactics, but here tactically there are certain things they do lack. It's got more to do with defending as a team as a whole unit, whereas here they look at defending as a back four or two central defenders together. That's where the difference is. In Italy, you're first defender is your first line of attack. Here you tend to face a lot of one-on-one situations which isn't ideal."
Off the field the 29-year-old, who became a father for the first time in June, has been pleasantly surprised by life on the picturesque Jeju Island, which was voted last year as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature with its heritage-listed volcanic region.
“It's really beautiful, a really natural environment, a lot of things to see. I've seen a few bits and pieces here and there between training and football," he said. "It's a hidden wonder of the world. I don't think a lot of people know about it, but it's an absolutely fantastic place to be.”
Madaschi has also enjoyed United as a club, stating they've made him feel very welcome. “The club has been fantastic. They've made the transition really good... It's a different cultural background to Europe and Italy, but I've enjoyed it so far,” he said, before adding several players and a member of the coaching staff speak English which has helped too.
|"Bringing a baby boy up in Jeju is definitely something to look forward to, it's a relaxing environment, it makes things a lot easier. It's not a big stressful industrialised city"
- Madaschi on his young family
The Australian's positive early impressions of Jeju and Korea bode well for United, given he's just started a young family at a time when many may prefer to be in familiar surroundings alongside parents and friends. Indeed Madaschi's reputation back home was boosted by his impressive spell at Heart, meaning attracting an A-League suitor shouldn't be too difficult if he decides to return, however he explained he's not entertaining such thoughts at this stage.
“I don't have a problem raising a family in Jeju," Madaschi said. "The problems will come further ahead when you've got to think about putting kids through school, but that won't be a problem with me for the next three to four years.
"Bringing a baby boy up in Jeju is definitely something to look forward to, it's a relaxing environment, it makes things a lot easier. It's not a big stressful industrialised city, there's fresh air and nice natural habitat around so it's good.”