Matt Jurman: 'Weird feeling' to watch Sydney FC win A-League double
Matt Jurman watched the 2016 A-League Grand Final while on Asian Champions League duty in Guangzhou with Sydney FC. A year later, he was back in the same Chinese city watching the same game -- only this time his former club was in action.
The defender left the Sky Blues in January to join South Korea's Suwon Bluewings, and when his old colleagues were taking on Melbourne Victory for the title, he was preparing for Suwon's must-win final group stage match at the home of Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande.
"I was a bit disappointed, as I could not watch the full game," Jurman told ESPN FC. "I watched up to 90 minutes. It was still 1-1 when the bus arrived at training and going into extra-time.
"I tried to stay on the bus, but I had to train. I didn't know the result until training finished, and I ran to my phone to check."
It turned out well in the end for Jurman, as Sydney triumphed after a penalty shootout. The win gave head coach Graham Arnold and his players a deserved title and Jurman a winner's medal, thanks to the 11 games he played before making the trip north.
"I am looking forward to picking it up ... and I was really pleased for the team and the club and all the fans," Jurman said.
"It had been a long time for the club to win the A-League. It was a great to see. Anything less than a win would have been disappointing."
That was because Sydney dominated the league from the start of the season, finishing a massive 17 points ahead of the Victory. Jurman puts at least part of the improvement down to fitness and mental training.
"Arnie was more focused this season from day one. The boys were much fitter than anyone else," Jurman said.
"We scored many goals in the last 10 minutes of games, and that was a big difference with the other teams. We were more confident this year, and we all knew our jobs. Nobody tried to be a hero.
"Our attacking players like Bobo, [Alex] Brosque and [Filip] Holosko meant that we could give them the ball and let them do what they do best. It was good to watch from the back. Even if you let a goal in, we knew we could win. The boys' heads did not go down if we conceded, as we knew that we would come back to score."
That is what happened in the final, as Sydney came back from an early Besart Berisha goal to end up celebrating a first A-League championship since 2010.
Jurman would not be human if he did not have at least a few mixed emotions as his friends lifted the trophy.
"It was a strange feeling. I did a preseason with the boys for three months and then played half a season," he said.
"We went through some hard years and some tough games this year. I wouldn't say it was frustrating, but it was a weird feeling not to be part of it."
Back in Sumon, Jurman admitted that it took time or foreign players coming to Korea to get a similar feeling of togetherness due to linguistic and cultural differences. After four months, the 27-year-old is starting to settle in.
"Training is a little different. You can't just speak to anyone about anything," Jurman said. "The foreign boys are there, and there are English speakers, but the banter is a lot different."
Another difference is the relative lack of verbal communication on the pitch compared to the A-League.
"During games, you want to pump the boys up and get everyone fired up a little. I have sort of done that in the game a few times, but am not sure if it worked," he said.
"Trying to tell people 'man on' or whatever, I don't know if they understand. The Koreans can definitely improve on this. You can save a lot of energy in telling people to go here or there, rather than two players going for the same ball."
There was no translation needed in the final game of the Asian Champions League group stage for Suwon, as a clearly offside goal from Brazilian star Ricardo Goulart gave Guangzhou a 2-2 draw that sent the Chinese team through and the Koreans out.
"I couldn't believe it, as I was the last man, and I could see that he was two metres offside," Jurman said.
"I just turned and ran to the linesman. I saw Goulart before the ball was whipped in. As a defender, you think it is all right and no problem if he scores. You turn and then you don't see the flag up, and it is frustrating.
"It shouldn't be allowed to happen at this level. There is a lot at stake. A couple of minutes later, I told Goulart he was offside. He just said 'Really?' He didn't care."
As a result, Jurman's focus has now turned fully to the K-League, where the defender is aiming to help Suwon climb the table and challenge for the title.
"It is our goal to win the league," Jurman said.
"I would be proud to play for two great teams -- do it twice in one year."
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.