Cornthwaite: My 5 tips for surviving Asian football


Robbie Cornthwaite has the inside word on what it takes to make it on and off the field when you sign for an AFC club.

My experience in Asia is one I will never forget. 

During my four years in the K-League in the Korea Republic, as well as 18 months in the lesser known Malaysian Super League (MSL), there were highs and lows and many difficult situations which most Aussies would have never experienced before.  

Here are my five tips for Aussies surviving football in the AFC.


In many Asian countries, respect to your elders is something that cannot be understated. 

In Korea, particularly, anyone older than you is someone you must respect. The coaching staff and club officials demand the most respect and should always be treated this way. 

Never speak back, humiliate or embarrass them as getting them offside could be disastrous. Among the playing group it’s a lot more relaxed but still tread lightly because once the group is against you, it’s hard to turn back.

During my time in Korea, I would bow to my coaching staff every day – a custom I chose to adopt. 


The players who have the most success in Asian are the ones who adapt the best. Many foreigners tend to stick together from the various countries they’re from, and as such can isolate themselves from the local players. 

Be friends with the locals, go for dinner, lunch, coffee or even a night out and try their local food and drinks. Food is a great way to bridge cultural differences. 

Learn as much as the local language as possible, ask lots of questions and even make a fool of yourself trying to learn will bring you closer to your team. 

Learn all your team-mates’ names. 

When I arrived I would learn one or two players’ names a day. If we did a passing drill I would say their name every time they passed me the ball until it stuck. I also had a print out of all their faces and names stuck on the wall in my room at the clubhouse. 

In other words: make an effort!

During my time at Jeonnam Dragons I had some Brazilians who refused to eat local food, which sometimes was frowned upon – at least give it a try. 

Some even refused to use chopsticks. I know some locals thought of this as an insult and lack of respect.  


Especially as an Aussie centre back, you’re not there to create. No doubt, the K-League is a very technical league but quite often – especially during the summer months – games become very scrappy and are a battle. 

So win your battles! Clubs may differ but one thing must be consistent. Big headers, big clearances, big voice and BIG tackles! 


The fear factor cannot be underestimated. 

Don’t do anything stupid to get yourself sent off (well not too often anyway!) but some Asian players are easily intimidated. 

Be aggressive in the tackle and at set pieces. Sasa Ognenovski was a wonderful player and leader for his club Seongnam and he had a fearsome reputation throughout Korea as someone not to be messed with. 

As a foreigner be loud. A foreigner who is able to communicate is worth his weight in gold. 

Learn all the simple Korean footballing terms like “turn” and “man on”. 


Malaysian football is another world. 

As much as some players expect a lot from their club or team mates, sometimes it’s best to let it slide. 

As a foreigner, look after yourself. Do what you need to do to be successful. There are a lot of things that will not be up to standard. Foreign coaches face similar problems – if you try to change too much then players can turn against you. 

So, pick your battles. 


Robbie Cornthwaite.

There is a real lack of professionalism and the punishment at my former club for being late to training was to buy KFC for the whole team. Not what you would expect at a professional football team!

In my time in Asia I saw a lot of things but one piece of advice I’d give is do whatever you can to be successful. 

Asian football is a fickle beast so strap yourself in and enjoy the ride!

This article was originally published at: