Last summer, one of the most surprising moves of the K League 2018 summer transfer window was the news that Ulsan Hyundai had signed Mix Diskerud, the former USMNT player, on loan from Manchester City. While Ulsan was unable to win the title last season, Mix and the Ulsan Horang-i are currently in the thick of a highly competitive title race this season with Jeonbuk Hyundai and FC Seoul.
With a full year in Korea under his belt, we reached out to Mix to get his thoughts on his experience in Korea, what is so special about Ulsan Hyundai this season, and his love for the Ulsan Hyundai fans.
How did the opportunity to play in Korea with Ulsan Hyundai come about?
Coach Kim Do-hoon and his coaching staff had been following and “monitoring” me for a while without me knowing. They apparently liked what they saw and wanted that type of player to stabilize the team through the midfield. I guess I was just perceived to fit that style of play that Coach Do-hoon wants the Horangi to play.
I am still not quite sure about the relationship between Ulsan Hyundai FC and Mr. Kwang Hyuk Park (“Kenny”), but he came to Gothenburg and spoke about Korea, Culture, Ulsan and Hyundai — totally charmed me and my father – and he also argued convincingly enough to get the principals of Manchester City FC to condone his proposed transfer offer.
Did you talk with any of the foreign players in the K League or those who had played in Korea in the past before signing with Ulsan?
No. But I checked out UHFC myself, and saw old matches and got an agent to translate interviews and statements made by Coach Do-hoon.
What was your expectation of what it would be like to live and play in Korea?
Growing up I saw old episodes of M*A*S*H. In part I’m sure that influenced my expectations!? Ha ha.
I really don’t remember what I expected. But growing up in Norway, we have had the chance to listen to and see Soon-Mi Chung in action professionally as a viola and violinist and also outside the life as a performer, and a better ambassador for Korean values and work ethic does probably not exist. Knowing her on one side, and also getting familiar with quality Korean export products in general during my adult years, I guess, both influenced me. I wanted to get closer, and see for myself, the underlying determination and work ethic that have made South Korea what it is today. That was definitely a big part of my motivation.
What has been the biggest adjustment that you’ve made to your game from playing in the K League?
None. My job on the field in any given match is and has been to adjust our team’s style to the style of our opponents, unless we are strong enough to outright dominate. I guess I am a type of player you can label a coach’s player, one that is good at bringing the coach or coaches’ ideas onto the field and managing that idea in practicality. I am soldier with some rank, sort of speak, that is loyal to the General. I do not get selected due to my physique, speed or sprint abilities, but rather because of how I interpret and defend tactically against our opponents.
Maybe I am a little better than most to foresee what will happen two or three plays, or seconds, into the immediate future.
Was your expectation of living and playing in Korea different to what the reality has been? In what way?
All Koreans I have met and really gotten to know have been a blessing. However, most Koreans in Ulsan are more than a bit shy and suspicious of foreigners, so I have had a problem with integrating in to any part of their social life. I regret not being able to have been better at solving the code for that to happen. However, this has not been a problem regarding the guys on my team. There are a couple Korean guys that I hang out with quite a bit.
What was the hardest thing about living in Korea for you to get used to?
All that squid.
You’re currently top of the table. What exactly is setting this team apart and making sure you get the points week in and week out?
We have an extreme depth in our squad. So with the tight schedule, injuries and whatnot – we are able to rotate players and formations without that effecting the performances to any large extent. As the season has progressed we are now a small group of teams on the top of the K-League that are pushing each other to not slack off at all. And I will be honest, it´s a grind. Every game, point and goal matters. It might come down to that last part…
How was the preseason with this group of players? Did you have a feeling this was a special group that could achieve big things?
We began pre-season with losing some talented players, who I thought would be a difficult task to replace. Thankfully the front office did exactly that. Bringing in ¨game changers¨, strong minds and leaders.
The team traveled to and spent time together in Vietnam and Japan. Fun to experience new places, but we did, of course, not get too much time to explore anything outside our bubble. It was mostly; eat – workout – sleep, and repeat and repeat, during those weeks and months.
How is your communication on the pitch? Do your teammates have phrases in English/Korean that they practice with you to improve chemistry?
YES! Some of the guys do speak some English, but I have caught some Korean phrases that I use during practice and games myself. Just basic stuff, but it seems to be working.
What’s your personal highlight on the pitch in Korea?
Winning against Urawa away. The atmosphere in Japan was amazing. Their fans even saluted us after the game. Now how crazy is that!? Then, a week later, I experienced the low point so far in Korea – which was to lose against the same team and get knocked out of the ACL.
What are your goals with Ulsan Hyundai? Would you like to achieve success in the AFC Champions League after a bitter exit to Urawa Reds earlier this summer?
We wanna win the league. And yes, the Champions League gave me a taste for wanting it even more for years to come.
What’s it like living and playing in Ulsan? Any highlights of the city you can recommend to our readers?
Well, it is an industrial city, as some may know. A refreshing coffee at one of the many cafés by the water and on the beach is something I enjoy spending my time doing. The city center is pleasant with nice shopping malls and my personal favorites – Korean BBQ restaurants. However, the absolute highlight must be to buy a Horangi shirt, put it on, and come to see our beautiful stadium and experience sitting next to our devoted fans during a league match. Haha, if you don’t think I am serious.
Talk a bit about the fans of Ulsan Hyundai. Are there any unique things that you have noticed that are different from the other fans you’ve played for?
I receive so many gifts from fans after practice and games. I am pretty sure that is a common thing here in this country, but I must say I have never experienced anything to that extent before. I do feel bad sometimes though, because I usually have nothing to give back. Maybe a championship could be a way of paying back. The numbers of spectators are not as many as I expected before coming to Korea, and is not nearly as many as K-League deserves and related to the quality of the league, when compared to other world leagues with comparable quality. Having said that, I must underline, that the Ulsan fans that show up here are extremely supportive and caring. It´s like the ¨few and the proud¨. Maybe as a consequence. But I feel half the city must be following, because well wishes, greetings and comments about me staying healthy is a warm wave and norm when I walk the streets of Ulsan.
What’s the coolest thing a fan or fans in Korea have done for you?
Framed photos of myself, huge posters of how much I mean to them are definitely up there, but if I must choose one….. Personally it was pretty cool when they had made a huge TIFO which was displayed during a league game. Urging me to re-sign with the team, a banner was displayed stating, ¨Mix. The last piece of the puzzle”
A huge thanks to Mix for taking the time from a busy season to answer our questions. For more of Mix Diskerud, you can follow him on Twitter here. Ulsan Hyundai face off with Incheon United this Sunday at 6 AM EST/7 PM KST.