Exclusive Interview: Daejeon's Jean Claude-Bozga
Despite all the optimism building up to the 2015 season when Daejeon made their triumphant return to the Classic, it soon became apparent that the Purples were not equipped for the job and thus were struggling to keep their heads above water.
Things looked bleak and as a result Citizen parted company with their popular manager Cho Jin-Ho.
Former Korea under-23 assistant manager Choi Moon-Sik was the man tasked with stopping the rot but failed to do so and, consequently, Daejeon were relegated, making an unwanted quick return to the Challenge.
Already under close scrutiny from the Purple Arena faithful, Choi Moon-Sik‘s first task was to build a team to challenge for promotion once again, just as his predecessor Cho Jin-Ho did in 2014.
Perhaps with one eye on the following season, Choi Moon-Sik brought in several players midway through Daejeon’s ill-fated return to the Classic, with the likes of Wanderson and Alvaro Silva arriving from Brazil and Spain respectively.
After relegation was confirmed the rebuilding process officially began and, Choi Moon-Sik began to put his mark on this Daejeon squad.
Such rebuilding work meant that Daejeon got off to a slow start, losing their four opening matches, but both Wanderson and Silva have both been stalwarts of an improving Daejeon back line this term.
However, one man who seems to have been the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle is Jean-Claude Bozga, a towering centre half from Romania.
Since his arrival Bozga, or Jang-cul-lawduh as per the Hangul on the back of his shirt (장클로드), has demonstrated exactly what Daejeon have been lacking for quite a number of years now; an experienced calm defender who can distribute the ball well.
Thus, already in his fledgling career south of the 38th parallel, Bozga has proven to be a hit with the fans; something which the man himself appreciates:
“I'm very thankful for the fans because they support me every game and they follow us,” said Bozga, who continued: “I like them also because even if we didn't play well they were with us.”
Daejeon’s hapless defence conceded 72 goals in 38 games last year, an average of just under two goals per game in a season where the Purples recorded a mere four victories.
Thus, it was plain to see that Citizen needed a commanding and experienced central defender to steady the ship.
Lucky for Daejeon they have two such defenders in the squad with Alvaro Silva, the Spanish-born Filipino international also impressing since his arrival.
The two have struck up somewhat of a formidable partnership at the heart of the Daejeon defence this term, as to why Bozga pays tribute to their off the field relationship:
“[Alvaro] Silva is closest to me, he is my roommate. Maybe that’s why we created a quick partnership.
He continued: “I don't know how it happened but also we have experience. It could be the language; in football we speak same language. This is a good thing because we formed a quick partnership. In football, and for our team, experience is very important. There are a lot of young players in the squad it is important to have experience in the team, especially in defence.”
The experience in which Bozga speaks of stems from his time in Europe where the Romanian has enjoyed spells with Dunărea Galați, Petrolul Ploiești, and Concordia Chiajna in his homeland before a spell with FC Minsk in Belarus which was followed by a three-year stint in Denmark with FC Vestsjælland.
So, then, what brought Bozga to Korea? He explained:
“I played many years in Europe. First of all, I like challenges and for me this is a challenge. In football you never know where you are going to play. I could stay in Europe, but like how I said, I like challenges, and also Asian culture. I felt I have to change something.
With Asia an enticing prospect Bozga admitted that he was excited by Choi Moon-Sik’s rebuilding project, which then prompted him to choose Daejeon over any other potential suiters:
“I moved here to Daejeon because I heard about their project to move up and also because of infrastructure which they have.”
Bozga is one of four foreign players currently playing for Daejeon and although the foreign players do stick together, the Daejeon number 13 insists that there the squad is somewhat of a close-knit group:
“I’m closer with [Alvaro] Silva but I’m friends with all of them; in particular Wande [Wanderson] and Gustavo [Sauerbeck] [Kim] Sun-Min, [Yoo] Seung-Wan, [Kim] Dong-Chan and [Hwang] In Beom.”
Such friendships have helped Bozga to adjust to life in Korea and indeed the football:
“I adapted really fast to Korean culture, it wasn't a big shock as I expected it to be more. Also, I like Korean food so it’s okay.”
On the subject of food Jean-Claude explains how, although somethings are inherently different in Korea, a footballer’s diet is not one of them:
“It's like in Europe. For breakfast, it’s easy food like eggs. Lunch is soup or pasta with chicken or beef, and fruits. It's up to us because we have a buffet.”
The style of football differs all over the world and with the 32 year old spending the cast majority of his career in Eastern Europe, adjusting to the style of play would have been something to consider also:
“You know, every country has they're philosophy of football it's the same with culture. Here [in Korea] it is more offensive and more direct”, he explains.
Clearly Coach Choi Moon-Sik has placed a lot of trust in Bozga, his experience is vital for the younger players in the squad.
How then, does an on-field organiser and commanding centre half articulate himself on the field or indeed in the dressing room when most of the players speak a different language? Bozga explains:
“Communication isn't that bad, we have translator but a few players speak a bit of English. I have learned basic football words [in Korean] in football which I have to use on the field.”
Daejeon suffered a slow start to the campaign, suffering four defeats on the spin causing the Daejeonistas to put more pressure on their manager.
But, after a sticky start, and a some spells of positive results, Daejeon sit in fifth place, five points behind Daegu who occupy the final playoff spot.
And, with just only a quarter of the season gone there is plenty still to play for Bozga believes that, certainly for Daejeon, it is still all to play for:
“I'm really optimistic person, and positive, I think we can go to the first division. With a lot of work and a bit of luck, we can do it. We shouldn't give up; it's a long way to go.”
Although his contract is initially just the 2016 season, what happens beyond this term remains to be seen with the man himself insisting that a new deal is not out of the question.
Bozga and indeed Daejeon are back in action on Wednesday evening when the Purples take on fellow promotion hopefuls Bucheon 1995 at Daejeon World Cup Stadium.
Match preview to follow.