Connor Chapman has opened up about his nightmare exit from K-League club Pohang Steelers and admits he never wanted to leave Korea.
Chapman has signed a two-year deal with new A-League outfit Western United after his controversial departure from Pohang last month.
The midfielder enjoyed two successful seasons in Korea, after joining Incheon United from Melbourne City in 2017 and then signing for the Steelers in 2018. Chapman signed a new two-year contract extension with Pohang earlier this year, and was thriving in Asia, before he had his deal suddenly terminated in strange circumstances.
Bizarre reports in Korea claimed the 24-year-old was trying to force a move to Europe and had even been infected by a brain parasite.
Chapman has rubbished those claims and says a dispute over his return from a stomach ailment ended with the club terminating his contract.
But he maintains he has no “hard feelings” with Pohang and has a desire to play in the K-League again one day.
Thank you to all the fans for your support this year🙌🏻 The atmosphere today was incredible. Stoked to finish 4th place @pohangfc looking forward to next year and hopefully #ACL ❤️. 🔴⚽️⚫️ pic.twitter.com/U4SgBWW8VH— Connor Chapman (@ConnorChap05) 2 December 2018
"I had two great years there and I definitely have ambition to go back there,” Chapman told FTBL.
"I love the people, I love the food, I the love the culture. The K-League is a very good league, it’s testing, it’s a difficult league to play in and they have great players. What has happened, obviously, wasn’t something normal.
"I had a stomach bug and then I was travelling to Korea, then I travelled back to Australia to find out what it was.
"And then we found it and I had to travel to Turkey [for a pre-season training camp], within all this I’d travelled maybe 50 hours worth of flights or more, within two weeks whilst I was sick.
"It brought on fatigue and in the end I missed maybe six weeks of training and the club felt that they needed a player to be there to start the season. With me being out for six to eight weeks bedridden, I knew that it would take me six to eight weeks to get back to full fitness.
"They weren’t happy with the recovery plan we came up with and they asked to terminate my contract. I said no, because I had just signed for two years, I had a great relationship with the head coach. In the end, I’m not sure how it sort of worked.
"I’m not sure if the head coach was involved, I don’t think he was, but they ended terminating the contract and for me, at the end of the day, if that’s what they wanted I wasn’t going to stand in their way.
"In respect to the club and the fans, I wanted to respect what they wanted to do so the termination came back and obviously when you’re a free agent you get offers but for me it wasn’t about that.
"If I wanted to leave to try – there was some crazy articles over there saying I wanted to leave to get a free transfer, which for me is quite disappointing. It’s quite hurtful because I gave so much to the fans and to the league.
"I put in so much effort over there and it’s quite sad in the end, some people have been messaging me saying I’m a liar and have been writing stuff here, there and everywhere through it.
"But, look it was what it was and the club made the decision that they wanted to. For me, I wasn’t going to stand in their way. I don’t have any hard feelings about it. I understand.
"I’ve focused on my health now, I’ve been back training for a few weeks and then I got a few offers in the A-League and in Europe.
"But once I came across the Western United offer, it was a very attractive offer, it was a new club, they wanted to build something great and it was very attractive to me. It was a no-brainer in the end.”
Chapman, who has represented Australia at Under-17, Under-20 and Under-23 level, is excited about the new adventure with Western Melbourne.
The midfielder is the third signing the fledgling club has announced.
Happy to put pen to paper with the newest club in the @ALeague @wufcofficial 🖤💚⚽️ Looking forward to help grow this exciting club next season. The club have big plans moving forward and I’m excited to be apart of it! https://t.co/hdOONJd9eD— Connor Chapman (@ConnorChap05) 7 March 2019
"It just came out of the blue, but everything felt right,” he said.
"Obviously what happened in Korea happened, but it’s probably meant for me to go down there and play well, hopefully prove that I’ve improved over the last few years and kick on to better things.
"It’s a two-year deal. Everyone wants to play at the highest level. Europe is a level that’s well-respected around the world. Sometime in the future I’d love to go over to Europe and try and test myself, show the level that I’m at.
"For now signing with a club that has big ambition in Melbourne, the plans that they have – on and off the field – are very, very big. They’ve signed a marquee player already, they’ve signed Josh Risdon a Socceroo.
"They’re building a very strong team and for me coming back I want to have some sort of success. Speaking to the club, it’s quite exciting the club they’re trying to build.”
Chapman grew up in western Sydney and came through the AIS before signing with the Newcastle Jets.
He believes Western United can follow the model of Western Sydney Wanderers and engage strongly with their local community.
"There’s been a catchment of fans there in the west,” Chapman said.
"I grew up in Sydney’s west so I felt that as well. To be able to go down to Melbourne’s west, a big club that in the future will have their own stadium, their own fanbase that will be able to pack out the nice stadium that they’re trying to build.
"It’s going to be a big, big thing like the Western Sydney Wanderers, the first few years you want to have some success as well. Hopefully going down there we can have some success for the fans, the area itself, the club, if you have success than everything falls into place."