South Korean club Incheon United signed Australian international defender Jade North in the winter, taking advantage of the new 'three plus one' rule that allows clubs to sign an extra foreign player as long as he comes from an AFC member nation.
North is struggling for game time under Incheon's new coach, Ilja Petcovic, but with the team level on points at the top of the K-League, the 27-year-old understands the situation and is waiting for his opportunity.
In the meantime, the former Newcastle Jets star found time to talk to Goal.com about this new chapter in his career.
Goal: Why did you leave Australia?
North: Basically, I had to take it to a new level. I was in a
comfort zone back in Australia.
The national team coach, Pim Verbeek, told me
that if I wanted to be in the World Cup squad then I had to be playing my
football outside [Australia], preferably in Europe, but because of the new Asian rule then
Asia became a perfect opportunity.
I spoke to Pim and he had coached the
national team here and he said that that the league’s probably not that much
better than the A-League but that they train a lot harder, so it was a great
chance for me to push myself and get the extra edge.
So he said that if you don’t leave the A-League then
you will jeopardise your World Cup chances?
Yes, definitely, and he has made that clear a few times
in the media. There have been a few boys who have come back to Australia
from Europe early and Pim has said that their jerseys are not guaranteed and I
think that is a fair statement.
I know exactly what Pim is talking about now. The
training here is a lot harder. It is full-on and full-time. Some days we don’t
get a day-off during the week. It’s living and breathing football.
It has taken me a while to adapt to training.
Australia, we have a lot of recovery time. Here it is a different culture and
you need to adapt. I think that I have done that quite well. It is just a
matter of getting some game time so I can show what I can really do.
You started this season as a right-back. That isn’t
your usual position...
For the past three years I’ve been a central defender
and I played there with the national team. I have played right-back three or
four years ago but to come here and play, it is a very physical position. It
took me a little time to get used to that position but it is like riding a
bike, you never forget.
When Incheon tried to sign you, was it as a central
I was told that I’d be a central defender. I know last
year they played most of their games with a back three but they obviously saw
DVDs of me playing in the middle.
But now, you haven’t played since March...
After the second game, I had to go back for a World
Cup qualifier. Incheon had a cup game. That’s football.
It’s a hard situation. The boy who has come in as
right-back has done really well. And Incheon have been doing really well and
It is a matter of time and waiting for the right opportunity.
You want the team to do well but at the same time, I came here to play
Have you been surprised at how well the team has been
Yes, last year I think they just missed the
play-offs so anything better than that is a big improvement. But until now I
think we have been playing the weaker teams and we haven’t been tested too
much. We’ve got some of the big teams coming up in the next few weeks. After
that, it’ll give us a good indication of where we are.
Incheon don’t score or concede many
From the games I’ve seen, we’re not going to score that many but we’re not going to concede many, it is the way we player.
Credit to the players, they get half-a-chance and then put it away.
Have you experienced any culture shock on and
off the pitch?
Yes, the food, the weather, the way people are
with each other. It’s very respectful, especially to your elders.
too, if you’re a young player then you don’t have much chance to voice your
opinion. Back home, if you’re young and good enough then you can go all the
way. Here, if you’re young and even if you’re right then you still have to
But it’s good that things are getting better with the boys. It’s
taken time but now we joke around.
Maybe compared to Australia, players are quieter on
Yes. I’m used to the practice that if you give
the ball away, another player will let you know not to do it again. I’ve always
been big on communication.
It’s hard now with the other players and even to say ‘to
your left’ or ‘behind’ is difficult. As a defender you have to control the
space in front of you and next to you. That’s been tough.
You socialise with the other foreign players?
Yes. That’s who I’m with every day. The Serbian boys
speak English and I always have a laugh with those guys. If it wasn’t for
them, it would be very difficult because of the language barrier.
How is the coach?
It is his first season too.
It’s probably the communication barrier that
stops him from talking to me and a few of the other boys. He has his way of
dealing with things and it is just getting used to his style of football.
How about the K-League in general?
There’s more running without the ball. In my old
team, we kept the ball a lot and played it out from the back. Here it is very
physical in the sense that there is a lot of running and players will go at you
for the whole game. In Australia, if they are one-on-one with you, they tend to
switch the player to the other side. There are so many little differences
between the two leagues that I’ve found very interesting.
And the Incheon fans?
Very good. Very vocal and they are passionate about
their team. It’s great. It’s just a pity that the stadium is so huge.
Incheon are building a smaller purpose-built stadium.
That will be great.
Compared to England, fans here are more forgiving of
mistakes and supportive in general.
I think that’s part of their friendly culture. In
China, I remember when Mark Viduka was warming up and the local fans applauded
him. In Korea especially, the fans are respectful.
What do you think about Incheon's young striking sensation, Yoo Byung-soo?
He’s done very well. He’s a strong boy and he knows
where the goal is. Give him half a chance and he’ll score. I think that he has
got a bright future. He just needs to keep his head on his shoulders and let
his football do the talking and I'm sure he’s going to do that. I wish him all
What’s the next step after Korea?
I want to keep myself in the Australia squad.
Korea and Australia are a long way from Europe. Few people will go out of their
way to watch the A-League or the K-League. That’s the disadvantage that the two
countries have as well as Japan and China. I know that these leagues are
growing but Korea is a stepping stone for me for bigger and better things.
There are three World Cup qualifiers in June.
Will you be in the squad?
I’d like to say I’m confident but you have to be
playing games. I had a chat with Pim the other day and he knows my situation
very well. I don’t think I’ve put a foot wrong with him in the past. He’s going
to call a big squad to see who’s in good condition. I’m quietly confident.
It is probably a good thing for you that your
national team coach knows Korea well.
That is a big plus. When I was deciding what to
do, knowing that he had coached here and Guus [Hiddink] too, I decided to go for it. It
gives us something in common.
He knows that if you play in Korea, you’ll be
Exactly, you have to be super-fit.
Sometimes when the referee blows for
full-time, almost the entire team will collapse to the floor.
Yes, that’s the mentality, to keep running until
you fall over. I just hope that I am not one of those falling over.