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EXCLUSIVE: Socceroos bolter Jurman thriving in Korea after Sydney exit

For Matthew Jurman, the moment Sydney celebrated winning the A-League grand final in 2017 was bittersweet.

On one hand, the 27-year-old enjoyed watching his former teammates being duly rewarded for their utter domination of the competition. But then again, there was still a part of him that yearned to be at Sydney Football Stadium on May 7.

“It was pretty tough watching those games near the end and Brosquey (captain Alex Brosque) lifting the trophy," the towering centre-half told Tribal Football.

“But I had a good idea we were going to win [the title] when I was leaving. It was tough sometimes, it's either the right time or its not the right time, but I felt for me personally it was a good time for me to test myself in a different league."

After eight seasons and over 130 A-League appearances for both Sydney and Brisbane Roar, Jurman packed his bags and jetted off to Korea in January to begin a new phase in his career with Suwon Samsung Bluewings.

At the time Jurman left, Sydney were undefeated in the league and flying, but despite a hint of sadness, he insists there are no second thoughts about his move.

“I don't regret leaving but it was very hard to watch the boys killing it, but like I said, I had every idea they were going to win it," said Jurman.

“And with Suwon being such a big club, I felt that if I didn't go then it might be difficult for me to go another time; maybe they would of signed another player or something."

Bluewings are one of the more successful clubs in Korea, having won four K League Classic titles and four Korea FA Cups. The club was founded by the electronics giant, Samsung, in 1995, and only seven years later, they collected back to back Asian Champions League trophies.

Jurman has joined a raft of Australian footballers who have chosen the peninsula for their next challenge. Greg Brown became the first in 1991, but it wasn't until Ahmed Elrich was scouted by Championship side Fulham while playing for Busan IPark that players really started to take notice of Korean football.

Since then, Aussies have excelled in the K League, and encouragingly for Jurman, the majority of which have been centre-halves, particularly Sasa Ognenovski and Robbie Cornthwaite, who both spent three seasons at Seongnam and Jeonnam, respectively.

In his first season for Bluewings, Jurman has established himself as a regular for Seo Jung-Won's side, having started 24 out of the 29 matches that he has been available for. Speaking about his debut campaign in Korea, Jurman said he has adapted well to the competitiveness of the league.

“Its my first time playing outside of Australia and I always wanted to give it a crack," explained Jurman.

“My first year has been good. When I first came, I was trying to see how the Koreans played and I was trying too see how our team plays, but since then I've adapted pretty well.

“[K League] is just so up and down, you can win maybe three or four games in a row and you're straight up the table and maybe you lose a couple of games or draw and you get caught up a bit and I think a lot of people might be surprised with how well I've adapted [to that]."

A highlight so far for Jurman was his brace - and debut goal - against Gangwon in April. Admittedly, the centre-back was surprised to bag, what he says, was the first double of his career.

With his side down by a goal, Jurman headed home two corners to win the game and he is hopeful he can continue to add to his goal tally.

“It was our first win of the season actually [against Gangwon]," explains Jurman. “I think it was the seventh or eight round and we hadn't won a game, so there started to be pressure on the coaches and players.

“It was an away game and [I scored from] two set pieces and two headers and we won. It was a crazy game because I thought that I had helped the team get our first win, but then the referee gave a penalty [against Suwon] in the 90th minute. Fortunately our goalkeeper saved it.

“It felt like I was [the hero]. Everyone came up to me after the game and was like 'thank you, thank you', I was buzzing to score two goals in one game. It was a good experience and I've had a lot of chances to score goals, so hopefully in the next ten games I can get my big head on some set pieces."

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglu has recognised Jurman's progression by including him in the 23-man squad for Australia's crucial World Cup qualification play-off tie against Syria. 
Jurman has represented his country at the Under 20 and Under 23 levels, but is yet to win a cap for the senior team.

With Matthew Spiranovic omitted and Trent Sainsbury under an injury cloud, it is possible Jurman could make his debut when the Socceroos travel to Malaysia to take on Syria on October 5, and he is confident he can help the team progress.

“Hopefully I'll be able to show what I can do for the national team and help the team where I can," said Jurman.

“Being a left-footed defender, I've been playing in the back three at Suwon all season, so I think those things can help me in Ange's system as well."

With Korea's season due to conclude in November, Jurman has left the door open for a return to Australia on loan, although he also adds that after two years of continuous football, his body may need a rest.

“I don't know, we'll have too see about that, it's definitely something to think about," replied Jurman when asked if he had considered a move back to Australia.

“But I'm definitely coming back for a holiday either way or I'll keep training, but I haven't had a break for almost two years, so I might need a couple of weeks off."

 Asked if he could play for another A-League club other than Sydney, Jurman said: “It would be difficult. I grew up supporting them, I've got a lot of fans from the club and it wouldn't feel right.

“But in saying that, if I was to come back one day and they couldn't fit me in, then I'd have to look at somewhere else I guess."

After a slow start to his professional career, Jurman has been a testament to hard work and endeavour. He dreams of one day playing in Europe, but realises that at his age, that goal might be too difficult to attain.

Whatever the outcome, the boy from Wollongong has made a name for himself in Australia, and he is slowly but surely doing the same in his adopted home.

Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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