Wilkinson joins Jeonbuk

CHAMPION defender Alex Wilkinson has agreed to terms with K-League heavyweight Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC on a two-and-a-half year contract.

CHAMPION defender Alex Wilkinson has agreed to terms with K-League heavyweight Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC on a two-and-a-half year contract.

Wilkinson, 27, will join the men from the Jeonju World Cup Stadium from Friday after reaching an agreement with Jeonbuk management on his recent visit to Korea Republic.

After being advised of Wilkinson-s decision to accept Jeonbuk-s offer, Central Coast Mariners worked diligently to agree a transfer fee with the Korean table-toppers for one of the clubs most loyal servants.

Wilkinson said he had mixed feelings about swapping the yellow and navy of the Mariners for the green of Jeonbuk.

“It has been seven years with the Mariners and I-ve loved every minute up here,” Wilkinson said. “I love the team, I love the club, and that-s what has made the decision so hard.” “But there was always a part of me that wanted to play overseas and this offer was in the too good to refuse category.”

“I-m leaving a great club behind [but] Jeonbuk are a very good team that has a very good set-up, so that made the decision a bit easier,” he said.

Wilkinson will be joined in Korea-s culinary capital, Jeonju, by his wife Brooke and newborn son Luca, and added that he takes comfort from the fact there are now so many Australians plying their trade in Korea-s top flight.

Indeed, former Mariners teammate Matthew Simon - now with Chunnam Dragons - is only a one-hour drive away ensuring the Wilkinsons will never be too far away from a familiar face.

Nevertheless, the highly regarded defender said he hopes his new club draw the Mariners in the 2013 AFC Champions League so he can return to Gosford-s idyllic bayside arena.

“It would be awesome and that-s what I am hoping for - then I can come back and see everyone!”

Mariners Head Coach Graham Arnold, although naturally disappointed to lose his captain, said the opportunity for Wilkinson to set himself up financially is one the player couldn-t refuse.

“Alex has been a great servant for this club for a very long time and we are disappointed to see him go, but at the moment Australian clubs simply cannot compete with the money on offer in other Asian leagues,” Arnold said.

“We have two Australian youth internationals in Trent Sainsbury and Zac Anderson at the Mariners who, given the opportunity alongside someone as experienced as Patrick Zwaanswijk, can do a fine job for us next season.”

“We wish Alex well and, like Mustafa Amini, Rostyn Griffiths and Matt Simon who have left us in the last seven months, look forward to following their fortunes.”

Central Coast Mariners Chairman, Mr Peter Turnbull, said: “Alex Wilkinson deserves this opportunity to secure his financial future. Alex-s transfer is another confirmation of the Mariners supporting Australian players in achieving the maximum from their football careers. Supporters will see this trend continue as Central Coast leads the way in providing opportunities for Australian youth, Australian talent.”

Wilkinson made 172 Hyundai A-League appearances for Central Coast Mariners over seven seasons. He played in three Hyundai A-League Grand Finals and was integral to Central Coast's two Hyundai A-League Premiership triumphs.

A gentleman off the pitch and a warrior on it, Wilkinson departs not only the Mariners but the Hyundai A-League having built a reputation few others can match.