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The Alex Wilkinson Interview

Sistar's biggest fan in the K-League (besides me): The Alex Wilkinson Interview

Nearly three years ago I got a chance to meet the most influential Australian player Asia has seen in the past few years. Strolling along with family, including his new born son, through the Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Alex Wilkinson's face showed all of the following; excitement, tension, readiness nerviousness and that ever so famous relaxed Aussie attiude. With only 6 month of experience outside of Central Coast Mariners and the A-League, the Australian center back had just signed with Jeonbuk Motors in the 2012 summer window. The club had lost two center backs earlier in the season and had even resorted to using a second string stiker to fill the spot. Along with that, Hwang Bo Won had just returned to China (Gwangzhou Evergrande) and the Asia Foreign spot was open. The move made sense at the time; acenter back who has overseas experience and the body to handle strikers in the K-League as well as being able to fill the Asian player quota. 


Fast forward to three and a 1/2 years later, and Wilkinson has turned out to be the K-League most succesful Asian players. During his time he not only took home two league trophies (2014, 2015), got close when he was a league runner-up in his first year (2012) and an FA Cup runner-up in 2013. He has also been part of the Soccerroos starting line after coming to Korea, being selected for the World Cup in Brazil and helping to bring home Australia's first Asian Cup victory (2015). 

The news is out that Alex is leaving the league at the end of the season. With no plans on where he will end up next, we left out transfer talk at just got on with a few questions about his time here.

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Lex: It’s been a while since we first met walking out the VIP after your summer transfer. No phone, no getting match fit, getting used to driving the family through Korean style driving… Needless to say, it’s been a long ride. Did you ever imagine it to be like this once you first came to Korea?

Alex Wilkinson: To be honest i had no idea what to expect when i first came to Korea.  But looking back at my 3 and a half years now it has been a wonderful time for myself.  Jeonbuk is a great football club and i have thoroughly enjoyed playing with them.  The korean people are so friendly and they have definitely made mine and my families time here a great success.




L: It was real important to find a place the family would be happy, especially with the new born. Anything you found especially great in Jeonju?

AW: Nothing especially specific to Jeonju that i can think of but more the people involved with Jeonbuk and the Korean people in general.  They are so friendly and welcoming.  Moving to a foreign country with a 8 week old baby was a bit daunting but we were made to feel so welcome by the club and found that Korean people would be more than happy to help myself or my family with anything we needed.




What are your go to restaurants and food in Jeonju?

We have a few go to restaurants around Jeonju.  We have discovered more and more the longer we have lived here.  Both my wife and I love Korean BBQ so we have  few restaurants around Song-CheonDong that we visit quite regularly.  Also we we both enjoy bibimbap and there is a great restaurant right near our house so we go there quite often as well.  And then there are some western food restaurants we visit quite often as well.  Korea is definitely not short on places to eat out!!

Your son was practically raised in Korea. Any advantages to that?

Yes i think so.  We have had him in Korean daycare since he was 1 year old and now he is understanding some korean and also speaking some words as well.  Its great for a young childs development to be able to learn another language at a young age. 



What’s it like being far from family, but having them be able to visit so often?
Its difficult being away from family and friends.  Especially when you have children.  I am away a lot with football and my wife is alone with my son with not much support.  At times that can be difficult.  I guess you just miss having the support network your family offers.  We are fortunate that our families make a big effort to visit us in Korea as much as possible and its great that we are only 1 direct flight away.

What’s with the number 18?
I have worn 18 most of my professional career.  Theres no real reason i like the number but i was at the one club in Australia for about 8 years wearing 18 and we were quite successful and then when i came to Jeonbuk the number was also available.  So it was meant to be! 

You got the call up from the Soccerroos leading into the Brazil WC and had a good time overseas. You were the only foreigner in the K-League to do so this time around, but one of maybe 5 K-League athletes. How did the media and press respond to that?

Representing Australia at the WC was my biggest career achievement.  It was an unbelievable experience.   As you said i was the only foreigner in the K league to be at the world cup so I got lots of support from the Korean people.  There was quite a lot of Korean media and press following Australia’s progress in Brazil and i got lots of well wishes from people back in Korea which was nice.  



Speaking on the WC, you were also involved in the first ever goal line technology review at a World Cup. Pre exciting to see that replay happen every time they talk about it?
I don’t really remember too much about the incident.  I just remember the ball being crossed in and our GK coming out to try and block the shot.  I tried to just get back towards the goal line to cover our GK.  The Chilen player chipped the ball over our GK and lucky enough i got there just in time to hook the ball away. It all happened so quickly it was just a blur.  Looking back at it i’m just glad i didn’t kick the ball into my own net and score an own goal haha



Who are the hardest guys to defend in the league?
There a few who are difficult to play against for different reasons.  Kim Shin Wook is a tough opponent because of his height and his strength.  He is a great header of the ball and is very dangerous from crosses.  Kim Sung Dae is also tough because of his speed and his movement.  I also think Eui Jo Hwang from Seongnam is a good player.  He is only young and he has good movement and can score some great goals.  He is one for the future.



Hardest stadium to play in?
Always find Pohang a difficult place to go and win a game.  We always find them hard to beat at home.

Anyone on the team that deserves attention from the national but hasn’t gotten it?
I think Kwon Sun Tae definitely deserves his chance which he has recently got.  He has been very consistent for us over the last few years.  I think Lee Jae Sung will be a huge part of the national team over the next 10 years.  I would be surprised if he wasn’t playing in Europe within the next few years.

You would know better than most without having to do it; what is the feel for or of the players that have to leave the club for two years to go to Sangju for Army service? Any massive parties for their returns?
Obviously the players don’t enjoy leaving their clubs for army service.  Its difficult for them and even more difficult for the players that must come back from Europe because the European clubs would be a lot less understanding than the Korean ones.  But the players just get on with it.  They all know that it must be done and they prepare accordingly.  No big parties that i have seen on their returns but i’m sure there is some sort of celebration!



Nearly 3 and 1/2 season now. Biggest moment in your time with Jeonbuk?
The championship last year.  We had a great year in 2014. We ended up winning the league by 13 or 14 points which was a huge achievement.  If we can go back to back this year that would be great for the club.  No team has done that in a while.



The Jeonju WC Stadium is dubbed ‘The Castle’. How does the stadium rank amongst others that you have played in. Obviously not the view like you had at Central Coast but atmosphere, size, anything.
It’s a great stadium.  To be honest most of the stadiums in Korea are great.  They are quite modern, big and most have good facilities.  The atmosphere at Jeonbuk games is very good.  The MGB do a wonderful job cheering, singing and just generally making noise to encourage the boys.  In comparison to the stadiums in Australia the ones in Korea are mostly a lot bigger.  Most of the teams in Aus play out of smaller boutique stadiums that fit around 20000 people.  Australia have a lack of big stadiums whereas Korea are the opposite.  They seem to have so many big stadiums.



If beer at Central Coast only cost $2 AUD like it does in Jeonju, would the atmosphere change there? Actually I’ll say ‘YEA’, but tell us how you think it would play out.  
I’m sure it would make the general public a lot happier if the beers were only $2!  A beer can cost up to $10 at a game of football in Aus.  I’m sure the atmosphere would be a little different.  More people shouting and singing for sure!

Wrapping it up, what was the language barrier like and at what point did you feel comfortable on the field?
The language barrier is difficult!  But to be honest i find it harder when i am off the pitch then when i am on it.  As a defender i like to organise and talk a lot in games so that is difficult when i don’t know the language.  I think you quickly pick up the words needed on the football pitch and so that didn’t take too much time for me to comfortable.  Its harder off the pitch in social settings when you can’t  communicate with your team mates.  The longer i have been here the more comfortable you become with everyone and the more you pick up the language so that makes everything easier.


Let’s get into some random ones here: You can only eat one food for every meal for the rest of your life. If you said kimchi, you would be sucking up. What food would you choose?
Chicken Schnitzel



No more soccer, what’s your new job?
Maybe still something to do with soccer.  Maybe player management?



Favorite candy bar?
Tough one! maybe a Twix or Maltesers

Most listened to song or album on the Jeonbuk bus?
Big fan of a variety of music.  I like some R&B, Dance and also some soft rock. 

Best goal celebration by a Jeonbuk player?
Has to be Leonardo’s karate chop pose

Hardest country to play in (that you’ve been to)?
Being part of the National team we have travelled to some countries recently that have been tough to play in.  Kyrgyzstan was a tough place to go.  Jordan was also difficult.

If any, what K-Pop songs ever go stuck in your head?
After we won the championship last year Jeonbuk threw us a party in which ‘Sistar’ performed.  Their song ’Touch my Body’ was stuck in my head for ages!!

You have to get a superhero tattoo on your body. Which logo would it be and why?
Maybe Batman cause the colours aren’t too bright and i could possibly manage to hide it!!

Soju or makkolli?
Soju

Rice or noodles?

Rice

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