How Korean football is taking young Aussie Connor Chapman to the next level

Would your 22-year-old self be brave enough to leave home and start a new life in Korea Republic?

That’s exactly the path Connor Chapman took in a quest to take his game to the next level.

And almost two years on his life-changing move, the Aussie boy is taking one of Asia’s most unforgiving leagues by storm.

‘You have to earn respect on the field… I think I’ve done that’

Chapman made his Hyundai A-League debut as a 17-year-old for Newcastle Jets, but moved to Incheon United in January last year.

It was a move deemed by many as one too risky for the burgeoning defender. But it took mere months to prove the doubters wrong, and he ended up in the K-League’s under 22 team of the season.

YOUR SAY: Vote for Tim Cahill's best Socceroos moment

MEULENSTEEN: Former Man Utd coach excited by Australia

“I felt like I needed to take my game to the next level,” the former Newcastle and Melbourne City defender told www.socceroos.com.au.

 “I thought, look, Korea are a very strong team nationally. They have great players like Son (Heung-min), the culture was something that I had to adapt to and every player would have to adapt to but once I adapted to that it was the right move for my career.”

“Every day there’s something new, something fresh that you haven’t seen before.

“Australia will always be my home but I’m young, I’m seeing new cultures and learning new things in football and that’s the main thing for me."

Chapman


While nothing could prepare Chapman for his monumental transition, his move to Asia was made easier by his arduous road to professional football to date, which started with a move to the Australian Institute of Sport as a 15-year-old.

However, the challenges presented by a new culture - new food, new language and new dressing room culture - are quite a burden for young shoulders.

Confucian tradition dictates an age hierarchy within Korean culture, but Chapman has embraced this challenge with an open mind and open arms.

There’s no wonder his Incheon teammates were surprised by the sight of the freshly arrived 22-year-old last January.

“I was probably one of the youngest players in the team at Incheon,” he said.

“I think for them there was a little bit of a shock at a foreigner coming in so young. At the end of the day, you earn respect on the field and I think I’ve done that.”

“After training we have a meeting the coach is talking, the first person to leave is the coach, then the assistant coach and it goes down on seniority.

“Then it will be the oldest player and right down to whoever is the youngest. It’s amazing. There’s an amazing culture over here.”

“They’re a very hard-working people, very respectful and always up for having a laugh with us.”

The universal language

The language barrier has historically been a major roadblock in young Australian footballers venturing into new pastures.

But Chapman resembles a chief torch bearer for a new generation of Australians who have sought foreign lands to further their development, in a list that includes the likes of former Victory defender James Donachie and 19-year-old striker Pierce Waring. 

The challenge of language has been no different for Chapman, who says foreigners in Korea will at least try to speak the language – at least enough to order food or direct a taxi driver.

Talking tactics, however, is a different matter completely. At Pohang Steelers, whom Chapman joined in January, he is one of four foreign players alongside three Brazilians, who all rely on the skills of a Portuguese and English-speaking translator.

“Sometimes there’s confusion, but not very much because there’s a football language and you can understand what the coach wants from you and all that sort of stuff without having to explain every single detail,” he says.

“I think I adapted well and I understand exactly what the Korean coaches are like over here so after I adapted to that it’s been quite easy for me at Pohang.”

The impressive maturity in which Chapman has conducted his Korean adventure will surely raise eyes around Australia.

And with Graham Arnold bringing forgotten men like Awer Mabil, Kenny Dougall and Mustafa Amini back into the national team fold, an older and wiser Chapman could be next line for a Caltex Socceroos call-up.

“I think I’m getting a little a bit older now,” he said.

“I started when I was 17 in the A-League, but I think now I feel a lot more experienced mentally and physically in my game.

“I feel my best football is coming out now, where maybe younger I was a little bit more naïve and wasn’t 100% focused sometimes mentally.”

Connor Chapman

All eyes on November

Chapman will be watching from afar when Korea Republic come to Brisbane to take on Australia.

But he says he’s relishing the clash between the two 2019 AFC Asian Cup title contenders, and thinks it will be a solid hit out.

“The team are in the same boat as us with a new coach [Portuguese Paulo Bento] coming in and taking the role.

“We haven’t really seen much of what they’re like under him, but knowing Korean players and Korean style they’ll be very organised and very compact in the midfield and be looking to counter attack us like they did to Germany in the [FIFA] World Cup.

“As fans they’re very loyal, they love their country. They’re going to have a great showing in Australia and I think they’re going to be very loud and there’ll be a great atmosphere in Brisbane. I can’t wait.”