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Vedran Jugović and Tomislav Mrčela Interview Part 1

Vedran Jugović and Tomislav Mrčela have played key roles in the Dragons summer turnaround that suddenly has them vaulting up the table and (hopefully) leaving relegation thoughts behind. I recently sat down with the two to discuss FIFA likenesses, moving away from home, K-League's reputation in Europe, not having an official translator on the team, an over-reliance on Oršić, and what's caused this summer's surge.

Be honest, which is cooler, absolutely nailing a song at karaoke or being in the FIFA video games?

Vedran Jugović: For me FIFA is really awesome. Because when I was young I always played these games, FIFA, and Winning 11, and I was dreaming about why I want to be in that game. So now one of my dreams come true. And it’s really nice to play [as] yourself when you know you’re in a game played by millions of people around the world.

What was the first year you were in the game?

VJ: This year. In the beginning, I really liked Oršić, because he’s really good in the game. I play career with AC Milan and I bought him for $15 million.

$15 million!?

VJ: Yeah, Jeonnam didn’t want to sell him unless I give $15 million. But I brought him and he’s playing really really good. I wanted to take myself, but my grade wasn’t so good, so I only take Oršić.

Now… I played as the Dragons on FIFA 16 recently. They may have missed a few things as they have you both rated as a 65 overall (Jugović,  Mrčela). Is that a fair assessment?

Tomislav Mrčela: We have to change something about it. Next update, beyond 70.

At least the likeness isn’t too terrible.

VJ: Yeah, everything’s ok. He’s tall. Boots are the same for me and him on the game. The real live boots.

That’s impressive.

VJ: Yeah, that’s impressive. We talked about it, who is looking at that and gives information to FIFA? Same brand. Same color. Everything. Same boots as in real life in FIFA.

Tomi, you’ve played for 8 teams as a pro. Many of them can't be found on FIFA since your entire career was in Croatia until your move to Jeonnam. We’ll talk a little more of the on field stuff in a bit, but what’s it been like moving away from Croatia for the first time since you were a child?

TM: Well that was something I was working for. To move from Croatia. Because unfortunately you can’t resolve your life playing in Croatia, you need to go abroad to play football. I played [for] many teams in Croatia, but that was from third division, second division, first division, so I was going step by step. That’s actually something I’m pretty proud of. Going step by step and improving myself with no other people around me, just doing the best every day and now I’m here. I’m really happy for that. I’m not thinking to stop. Just want to improve my game.

So, the transition between leagues is something you’re used to, but how’s the transition been off the field?

TM: Before I even came here I was texting [Jugović], and he told me everything what’s up and I pretty much knew where I’m coming. It’s easier having someone waiting for you, so I think my adaption was pretty fast and pretty easy to be honest. I like that I came here and it was already the league started. It was already the middle of the season, so just give me games. Just give me a good start. That was the most important thing, ya know? First games, first 90 minutes, winning, so that was great. It’s not easy if you lost the game, then [people] wonder “what’s he doing here?” For now, everything’s good, really.

Jugo, was it similar for you? You also spent your entire career in Croatia until the Dragons, and have been here a bit longer. What’s the experience of moving away from home been like for you?

VJ: Yeah, it was the same. Because at that time, Stevo and Oršić were a long time here and they really helped me. When I came I also had preseason time to adapt and to see everything, and to see the style, because it’s very much different than the Europe style. So, it was also pretty easy because I had someone to wait for me and it was good.

So is it just easier with a fellow foreigner on the team?

VJ: Of course. But I should also say Tomi and I are both… easy people. You know, because we like everything. We like every kind of food, we like kind of people, we like…

TM: Trying new stuff.

VJ: Yeah, trying new stuff. We are not hard with everything.

Which I’d imagine goes a long way. Especially, clubhouse culture is probably very different.

VJ: Yeah, it’s different. It’s different also in the way that here men are still going to the army, and they have that kind of culture. Also same in the clubhouse: time of sleeping, when you’re awake, everything must be scheduled. In Croatia, it’s a little bit loosened up. You can wake up when you want, and something like that. But… it’s ok. We are going OK with this.

TM: For me, I think for him too, it’s interesting to try to adapt to different cultures. And the Korean players like it. They like when they see we want to be eating the same food. We don’t eat pizza every time after the game, we want to eat with them. They’re our teammates. They’re our friends. Ya know, it’s nice to know how they live, and to try to live the same way.

What did you know about the Dragons and/or K-League before making the move? What kind of reputation does K-League have within European leagues like HNL in Croatia?

TM: Well, I knew probably everything he said to me. Nothing too much. I watched a few games of K-League, [but] not Jeonnam, and so I didn’t know it too much. About the team, about the town, I just knew it’s a small town, and a stable club, and a pretty solid team. I mean… it wasn’t on the table, and it’s not still, but I knew they were a bit unlucky to lose. The most important thing for me is that I’m coming to a stable club.

VJ: When I was coming I also didn’t know much, because in Europe we don’t know much about Asian clubs. So there was an option for me to come here, and I like challenges, I like some different things, different styles, different cultures, so I want to try. So I come here, and I really like it. I was looking a little bit at China, Thailand teams, I think K-League is the strongest. I think the level of K-League is similar to some levels of some really good European leagues.

Do you think that would surprise some European players?

VJ: Yeah, I think they will be surprised most with the aggression. With the speed of players. Physically. The Korean players are very physical. Very very good. In Europe, maybe a little bit of tactics, a little technical play, maybe less mistakes in the game. But, here the tempo is really really really fast. I think Korean teams have a chance against some good European teams.

TM: I can say on my own example, I play a central defender, the quality in Croatia is really good. Especially technic, tactics, and all that, but there’s some times, some games that I don’t get too much time. I can play another day, another game. But here it’s more intensive. It’s faster. It’s more aggressive, and really these four games especially, after every game I was pretty tired, ya know?

So the league play’s surprised you a bit, what about culturally? What’s been your favorite thing about Korea so far?

TM: The first thing I noticed [is] the kindness of the people. Everyone is really kind. Really friendly to you, and that’s something I really like here. Everyone’s smiling, everyone’s looking satisfied. Not just my teammates, but everyone. The kids are awesome. I like interacting with them.

VJ: For me, the same. The culture of people. Their kindness. They really show their respect to each other, to older people. You know, 형(hyung). This is really nice. Also, fans every game they are cheering up. You know, in our country, there is… more bad things about fans. They wait 5-10 minutes, if we are playing bad, they start shouting bad things to players. To their team. They start to insult players.

TM: Big pressure.

VJ: Here the fans are cheering up all the time, and it’s nice. And food! Food is also one of the reasons I really really like it here. Because I really like spicy [food]. Kimchi jjiggae is my favorite meal here.

Strangest thing so far in Korea?

VJ: I was expecting here that people can speak English really really good. So I was a little bit surprised when I saw not so many people speak English. But, then some Korean people explained to me that many Korean people are a little bit shy. They know how to speak English, but they are afraid of making mistakes. But, I say OK, I speak English and making mistakes all the time, but for me it’s important that you understand me. I understand you. And this is the most important thing. But for them, they’re really shy. This is one of the things I was expecting… a bit more. [That] they would speak English a bit better.

TM: To be honest, probably that as well. He told me that before I came here that’s one thing that’s hard to settle [in] because of that. I expected maybe a bit more English from my teammates and all that. Especially because of that it’s easier for you to adapt on the field. But… I mean… it’s on us to adapt as soon as possible, so we can learn learn different words. Korean words.

So it doesn’t seem that the off field culture shock has been too bad. But on the field, Tomi, your first minutes in K-League came as a target forward in a late scramble to get a goal. What was that experience like? Have you ever played that high up the field before?

TM: Yeah, there’s some games in Croatia as well when you’re losing in the last 5 minutes, I just go up and try to do some heading and stuff like that. But, I didn’t expect [it] because the coach actually had one more sub to do and he already decided to put [in] another player, I think another winger. And he was already getting me up and was asking “can you play up?” And I’m like “no problem.” So I went in and tried to do my best. Unfortunately we didn’t score, but it was nice to make that debut. Even as an attacker.

Jugo, it's not quite as strange as being thrown out of your position, but you’ve been all over the midfield this year in a few different formations. Have you had a season with this many shifts in your role? 

VJ: Yeah… this is my story. The story of my career. Everywhere I play, I play so many different positions in midfield. Sometimes attacking, sometimes side, sometimes winger, sometimes defensive midfielder, because my style of play is box to box midfielder. Offense and defense. So I really like [the] combination the last two-three games with [Kim] Young-wook. We are both physically good. Running good. So one go up, one stay, and we change. This I think is a really good combination. I feel really good in that position.

Would you say that’s your ideal midfield position? Where would you play in the midfield if you had to pick?

VJ: This. In this formation with two defensive midfielders, I want to be one of them.

Speaking of different partnerships and communication, how’s the language barrier been on the field? How are you working around it in practice and how’s it going during the games?

TM: There’s one or two players that know English. [Cho] Suk-jae, he’s actually originally from New Zealand I think. So he and a few other players, like [Lee] Ji-nam. Ya know, we can figure it out when the coach [speaks] with his hands. You know what he wants, but then they come and explain a bit. It’s not a problem. For me.

So, there’s no actual translator?

VJ: We have some team managers who translate sometimes for team meetings, but on the field, maybe our training, there’s no one. Only other players who know English.

TM: We don’t need one.

VJ: In football, you know, some things are the same. We know when we look what the coach thinks. What he wants.

TM: Football is everywhere the same.

VJ: So… it’s not difficult. I said to [Tomi] some important words. You know 왼쪽 (left), 오른쪽 (right), so he knows. So some words we learn, but we know already what they want. That is the most important thing.

Well it doesn’t seem to have been much of an issue lately. Tomi, since you’ve been here the Dragons have gone 3-1-1* in league play. From what you’ve seen, what’s been the biggest cause for the turnaround?
*Interview was conducted on July 28th

TM: I talked with [Vedran] when I arrived here, like what’s the problem? Where’s the results? And he said many games last minute… conceding last minute. Penalties. And losing points. And now while I’m here, Jeju last minutes two goals we scored. We could’ve lost that game. We were closer to losing it than winning. Suwon FC, same situation. Most important game, I think of this year. Especially losing 1-0 before then and turning it around. I think the luck has turned around and now we’re getting paid for good play. Good games. I think there’s more of us coming. We have all of our players. There are no injuries. We have self confidence now, so I think we can expect more from Jeonnam.

VJ: We had so many games close and every game goes to another side. So now a little bit of luck, but not all. I think now we won one game, Jeju, we won in Incheon before. So we have some confidence. We rise up every game. And I think one of the most important games before was the game against Sangju. When we were winning 3-1 and lost 4-3 in the last ten minutes. It was really bad for our confidence. The full team goes down and we couldn’t play on the same level the next game. So we need a win. In football you need a win to get better and better. Now we have a result, we don’t have so much pressure about relegation. We are in a little bit better position, so these things, have a good result, good playing, that’s now our situation.

TM: I would say especially while I’ve been here, we’ve had a huge impact from the bench. Coach is doing good subs. The subs were really good, especially against Suwon. Two subs, two goals. So huge impact from the players from the bench from all games.

Has playing “the kids” factored into the turnaround?

VJ: Before, we had Oršić. And many games Oršić decided by himself. Now, these young players, when he left, when Stevo goes, I think they had some change about their playing. Because they said maybe for themselves, OK now I must decide. I have a chance now. Because we knew Oršić, ok this is his position and he was the best in that position. Now when he [went], some younger players get the chance to get on the field. They’re more brave. Now thinking “I could decide the game when I come in.” Or “I could play regularly.” So I think we now have a team with more players, you know? We have maybe 18-20 players who are the same. On the same level. And the coach can choose, and it’s really good.

It did seem there was an over reliance on Oršić before. Often the team would just hoof the ball up to him and see what he could do. 

VJ: Yeah. Now it’s different. Now we play like a team. Every game you can see the scorers are different. Who makes goals, who makes assists. So the whole team makes a contribution to results. We are now one team. One team playing defense, one team playing attack. I think we have good cohesion and it’s really nice.

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this interview to hear Vedran and Tomi's thoughts on the team's formation shift, captain Choi Hyo-jin, taking on a leadership role, the "dark arts," Jeonnam's ceiling this year, and a bit about international duties and the World Cup. 


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