Robert Cornthwaite did his due diligence on Western Sydney before joining the club and revealed how his conversations with friends among current and former Wanderers players convinced him it was the right way to go.
Cornthwaite already strongly suspected he would be making a good choice joining Wanderers, having kept a close eye on the A-League from Asia, but he told The World Game getting the word first-hand from people like Scott Jamieson and Daniel Mullen was the clincher.
Wanderers left-back Jamieson and former Wanderers defender Mullen, now with Newcastle Jets, both played with Cornthwaite at Adelaide United, where Cornthwaite spent the first six seasons of the A-League before heading overseas.
“The opportunity to come to Western Sydney is not one you’re going to get every day and all the things I’ve heard about the club and the way they go about their business made me excited to take up the opportunity,” Cornthwaite said.
“Scotty used to live at my house in Adelaide. We shared a place for 12 months or more. I had a couple of good chats with Scotty about Wanderers and he was very positive about it.
“Even some of the boys who might not have played as much football as they would have liked at Wanderers, such as Daniel, were still very positive about the club.
“I had a chat with ‘Mullsy’ and even though he left the club he still had good things to say about it. Pretty much everyone I spoke to touched on the high level of professionalism and standards required at Wanderers, which is what you want to hear as a professional player.
“That was all I needed to know.”
Central defender Cornthwaite described his experience in Asia, where he played four seasons for Jeonnam Dragons in the Korean K-League and the last two with Selangor FC in the Malaysian Super League, as “life-changing”.
“It gave me the opportunity to play football at a really high level in Korea, which some players don’t get, and financially I was able to set myself up,” he said. “I’ve got absolutely no regrets.
“The K-League is one of the top leagues in Asia and always has teams in the last eight or four of the Champions League and just the money that gets thrown around in terms of facilities and foreign players, you’re going to get a higher standard of football.
“But, in saying that, you can see the Aussie sides are starting to mix it with the biggest clubs in Asia. Wanderers won the Champions League two years ago and Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory both advanced from the group stage this year and were unlucky not to get past the round of 16.
“It’s a vastly different standard of football and level of professionalism in Malaysia, compared to Korea, but it was still a great life experience.
“South-East Asia, it’s a fantastic part of the world to live, but my wife, Nel, and I have an 18-month-old daughter, Sahara, and it just made sense to come back to Australia at this time.
“It’s good for my wife to have a bit more support and good for myself as well, because the last 18 months it’s really been 24/7 with the little one, as any parent would know.
“I think having family close enough, in Adelaide, to make visits possible, and also some family and a lot of friends in Sydney will be a big help.”
Cornthwaite, who has eight caps for the Socceroos and is a powerful and dominating player at the back with his solid build and 195cm in height, said his first week of training at Wanderers had been “a real eye-opener”.
“I’ve come in to arguably the best set-up in Australia,” he said. “It’s been a good first week. I arrived back in Sydney on Sunday and started training on Monday, so I’ve been doing a lot of my medical and testing stuff and getting to know the players, a few of whom I already knew.
“Plus, talking to the coaching staff and just learning how they do things. It’s vastly different to Malaysia. Being here, it’s going to make me a lot stronger and get me into a lot better condition and allow me to play my football at a much higher standard.
“I’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of me over the next two to three months, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work.”
Cornthwaite, 30, said his early conversations with Wanderers coach Tony Popovic had left him confident that, with the right attitude, he could extend his career into his mid-30s.
“That was part of the conversation I had with ‘Popa’ even before I came here, about getting myself into this environment, this set-up, where I can definitely prolong my career,” he said.
“So that’s one of the exciting things. Playing centre-half, you can sometimes go a few years longer than the other players, and my experiences playing in Asia, and with the Socceroos, have taught me a lot.
“Coming to the Wanderers, It all points in the right direction, but without the right mentality and application to the job you won’t be successful, so I’m going to tackle it like I’ve tackled everything else in my career and give it my very best.”