Busan may be Korea’s second city but, when it comes to soccer, Busan I’Park hasn’t been second for a number of years. There was a time when the club was the best in the country and even Asia. Now it is not even close to being the best in Gyeongsang Province.
If that changes any time soon then the fans on the south coast may have the A-League to thank. Australia’s domestic competition now has five alumni in the K-League. The first to come was Sasa Ognenovski, now a star for Seongnam. Just ahead of this season, there was something of an influx. Luke Devere joined Gyeongnam, Robert Cornthwaite signed for Chunnam while Busan imported two A-Leaguers. Bas van der Brink hails from the Netherlands and arrived at I’Park from Gold Coast United while Iain Fyfe joined from Adelaide United.
“I was playing for Adelaide in the A-League and there were rumors of interest from Busan,” said Fyfe. “The club came to Australia and they were looking for players. I guess in regard to me, they liked what they saw. Busan then contacted Adelaide and from then on, everything went smoothly which is always a good thing. Everyone was happy. I was also, it was a good opportunity to head overseas and play a different kind of football.”
Fyfe has visited Korea before. Adelaide competed in the 2008 and 2009 Asian Champions League but that didn’t really prepare him the switch from a relatively sleepy South Australia to a metropolis of almost five million. “I have been blown away by how big a city Busan is. You see a city the size of Adelaide and then you travel two stops on the train and then you see another city the same size and then you travel four more stops then you see something similar.
“There is a lot to do here away from the football. Around Haeundae beach it is quite westernized with lots of foreigners here and lots of western restaurants. Korean food is great, too. … I have enjoyed it so far.”
It is hard to say whether it is easier to settle to life on or off the field when you make the move to a foreign country. On it, it has so far been a tough baptism. Busan is going through something of a transitional phase. Hwang Sun-hong, coach for the last three seasons, left for Pohang Steelers. Ahn Ik-soo is the new man and is still putting his stamp on the club.
“We haven’t started well but we are going in the right direction. ... A few days after I arrived, I asked my teammates what would be a successful season and they said that it is all about getting in the top-six and the playoffs and going from there.”
It is 2004 since such a lofty position was occupied by Busan and even that was a fairly unusual occurrence. The team won the last of its four titles in 1997 and things have been barren since, the occasional FA Cup challenge apart.
The start to the 2011 season has not been much to write back to Adelaide about. After four games, Busan has yet to win and sits just one place above the bottom of the 16-team league with one point. “It’s different,” admitted Fyfe. “Technically, the K-League is far superior to Australian football. ... The football here is very quick; the movement of the teams is excellent. I think the thing I have taken from the K-League is that it is a smarter league with smarter players.”
By John Duerden, Contributing writer (email@example.com