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Interview: Suwon FC's Bruce Djité

Australian centre forward Bruce Djité signed for Suwon FC last summer, midway through the 2003-formed citizen club's debut season in the Korean top flight. Suwon FC, however were eventually relegated but despite that Djité stayed, insisting that his sights were always set firmly on firing Suwon back to the K League Classic in what the former Adelaide United man described as "unfinished business". 

In another K League United exclusive interview, columnist Paul Neat spoke with Djité on all things Suwon, this season, Asian Champions League aspirations THAT Suwon derby and much more.
Image courtesy of SuwonFC.com


Yourself, Adrian Leijer, Vladan Adžić and Jaime Gavilán all stayed with Suwon FC, despite relegation last year, what was it that made you all stay do you think?

"I don't know, I can't speak for the others but for me, I had just come to the club. I spoke to Adrian [Leijer] before I came and he was pretty positive saying "they have brought in quite a few players, we might stay up", he was pretty positive. I think, the fact you go down and  as a foreign player you feel a bit of responsibility as well so I think it was the right thing to do, to stay and try and get them back up. 

"They gave me the opportunity to play in Korea, I am not keen from jumping from club to club; if you look at my CV you can see, so I wasn't really going to jump ship. I wasn't really looking for a way out, and saying that it wasn't as if I had multiple offers that I was turning down to stay at Suwon. It was unfinished business. "

Suwon's ambitions are obviously to get back to the Classic, but did you set yourself any targets, goal targets for instance?


"No, I think my target is always to help the team win, whether that's clearing the ball off the line in the 90th minute or scoring in the 90th minute. Whatever it takes, I think my job is to help the team win. 

"Again, when I was younger you set goal targets and things like that but you quickly realise that you'e not going to get the goals if the team is losing a lot of games. I am just trying to help the team win and the only goal I have is to help get the team back into the K League Classic. "

What has happened this season, more specifically recently? 

"Honestly, I thought we'd be having a better season than what we're having now but that's the beauty of football; you go through the rough patches and you never know; you could go on an unbelievable run and really give first place a shake, you just don't know. You have to take it game by game, don't think too far ahead. 

"We started really well and it just seems that we're in a bit of a rut at the moment. I've been in this sort of situation before I am of the opinion that you just have to get your head down and get through it; work hard and try to turn things around every day in training and in the games.

"It's all about training hard, preparing well for the game. Just doing the basics right and getting back to the way we were playing at the start of the season. I think that's what we need to do to start to turn it around."


Suwon's current formation is a 4-1-2-3/4-5-1 depending on how you look at it, how does that suit your game do you think?

"It suits my game because I have always been that sort of screening number 9, hold the ball up, bring midfielders and other into the game-type player. It's always good to play with another striker because it makes a defender's job much harder; "who do they follow?" "who do they track?" "do I come close?" "do I give the striker space?" "is there someone coming in behind me?". When you're by yourself it's a bit difficult for me but maybe a bit easier for defenders to pick up "here's coming to your right, cover him.

"But, I have always played in that system, not always but in recent years, so I have become accustomed to that 4-3-3, we played the same formation at Adelaide which we do here [at Suwon]. I was there for five years so it suits my game I think."

We spoke to Connor Chapman of Incheon United, he mentioned that there is a bit of an emphasis on heading in the K League, as a striker and being at the same end of the pitch if on opposing sides, would you agree with that, that there is an emphasis on long balls?

"No, not in my team. I can imagine being in Incheon, as a defender; they're near the bottom and fighting maybe they resort to that kind of football. I don't think there's an emphasis on it [heading], but it is a very physical competition. The players here aren't renowned her for their physicality, but Koreans are very physical players; they're very strong, they're very quick, they're physically very, very good athletes."

What areas of your game do you think are ideally suited to the K League?

"I think, I'm a physical player. I'm not one of those silky smooth types of strikers, I'm not a Thierry Henry type or a Karim Benzema type striker so the K League being a physical league I think I adapted to that quite well. I think that's something that I don't mind a battle, I don't mind having to screen the ball with two centre backs kicking at me all game. I think that part of my game  is one of my strengths and something that has helped me adapt to the K League."

So there was a period of adaptation when you first got here?

Oh yeah! When I came at the end of July it was bloomin' hot! It gets hot in Australia no doubt but the humidity here, gosh. There's a lot of things to adapt to; different food, different lifestyle, the climate - coming from the Australian winter into Korean summer, learning your team and the players' names - a 50-man squad all hyphenated, it's like two names each!

"And then there's now the coach wants me to play, how the coach wanted to the team to play so there was definitely an adaptation period. After a couple of months I started to settle in.

"The fact that I had played Asian Champions League (with Adelaide United), those ACL campaigns helped because I had played against Korean teams before and Korean players before, so that helped but there's always an adaptation period. "

Are there any areas of your game which you feel the K League has helped you to improve on?

"I think just general game awareness and decision making. Especially last season in the Classic when I arrived and the team was battling so hard and we battled until the end of the season, but unfortunately we didn't make it; the job to stay in the Classic, but I think my decision making improved in that period in terms of; "do I shoot or do I pass now?", "do I take one touch or do I take two?".

"I am a foreign player and expectations are higher, and it's hard to give you a succinct answer, but it's not things that you can practice in training; decision making is one of those where you've either decided before the ball comes, just before the pass comes to you what you're going to do, or as the picture changes while you're on the ball, you see different things and you opt to make different decisions that are presented to you. It's not really something you can practice but I really thought my decision making and game awareness improved."

What about A-League compared to K-League?

"Australia is renowned for physical players, the Koreans are the same. I think individually the players are very good here just in terms of their ability on the ball, right foot left foot - pretty much the same, the long balls/long passes are quite good, in short spaces they're very good, they tend to be quite well balanced on the ball. Comparing it to the A-League, though, it's just different. It's a very different competition.

"It's similar to compare in terms of size, there's 10 teams in the A-League and 10 teams in the Challenge, 12 in the Classic. Obviously, the A-League has a salary cap, you don't have that here. It's more obvious in the Classic, with your Jeonbuks always at the top, who have got a very strong squad this year - they'll be there or there abouts come the end of the season. The A-League has salary caps so there's the scope to have a smaller club right up there, with the Melbournes and the Syndeys.

"You can only have 23 maximum players in the A- League as well, every player is very, very important to the coach. Here you have squads of 34, like normal. So, there's more competition for spots, it's easier to get dropped - you've really got to be on your game."

You scored against a couple of Korean teams in the ACL if I rightly recall, I seem to remember a goal against Pohang.

"I think my first ever goal for Adelaide United was against Seongnam. I played against Seongnam a handful of times, I played against Pohang quite a few times; I think I had them in two separate ACL campaigns so obviously home and away. So the Korean teams I had come up against before had helped.

"Because you've played in the Asian Champions League before, and over in the Chinese Super League too, what was it that sold you to the idea of a move to Suwon FC? At that time where there offers from more established top-tier Korean teams from the Classic?

There wasn't, nothing concrete anyway. At Adelaide, they were in the Asian Champions League this year and I was vice captain there, everything was good there. What sold me to Suwon FC is the challenge, being in a relegation battle scenario so to try to stay up and with Adelaide I had one year left on my contract and they hadn't started negotiations to extend that deal.

"As it turned out, Adelaide lost five or six key first-11 players, and the club hadn't really filled those gaps and players talking in the changing room you can see that the players are a bit edgy, it's not as strong as last season.

"I wouldn't say the writing was on the wall because it's easy in hindsight, but it was a poor season, it just didn't look very convincing so that made my decision a bit easier as well. If you leave having won everything or like some of the players now leaving off the back of a very poor season, it's always best to leave the party when the party is still good, not still be out there on the dance floor! It was good timing, it seemed right."

Do you have aspirations to play in the ACL again? 

"It would be good to play in the Asian Champions League again, whether I do or not I am not really too fussed at the moment considering that we're in the Challenge league. Now, I am just looking to get back into the Classic, trying to get into a playoff spot. First place would be very difficult to obtain so look at those playoff spots  and try to help the club get back into the top division." 

Suwon went up in 2015 via the playoffs, so they've done it before and I am sure that if they get there again they'll be thinking that there's no reason why it can't be done again.

"100%, 100%. I come from a sporting culture where it's all about finals, football/soccer it's all about the finals. I like those pressure-park games."

In terms of motivation, last season you played in that incredible Suwon derby, the 5-4 game, you scored as well, what was that like to play in?

"I love derbies.  That butterfly in your stomach feel, where it's like "it's on today". I just love derbies.

"For us being the smaller club, and not expecting us to do anything, just gives you that extra motivation as the underdog. It was very open, tactics pretty much out the window, just go for it. And, it was really enjoyable to play in to be honest." 

It was such a late, late winner for Suwon FC because Bluewings pulled it back in the 90th minute, and then Kim Byungho goes and scores in the winner in the 96th minute...

"Unbelievable, unbelievable. It reminded me of the Manchester derby a few years ago where Michael Owen scored right at the end, just a typical derby; unpredictable, high-scoring, the last kick of the game. It was one of my most memorable games in Korea for sure."

You were on the bench but came on and scored instantly, that must have felt good almost as if to show the manager that's why you should have started?

"Me and Byungho were both on the bench. But, yeah you always want to contribute, don't you - coming off the bench. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't, always do your best to do so, though. That was our day, that was a good day for us."

Would it be fair to say that you can use those sort of derby games as extra motivation to try and go back up again?

"Oh certainly. To have an opportunity to play in another Suwon derby, it's a big carrot." 





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