Niall McGinn has no regrets over his short and unsuccessful spell in South Korea but admits he missed the passionate big match atmosphere of Scottish football.
The Northern Ireland international has rejoined Aberdeen on a three-and-a-half-year contract seven months after signing for Gwangju following the Dons’ Scottish Cup final loss to Celtic. That was exactly the sort of occasion McGinn missed with his lucrative move coming to a premature end in November as he terminated the contract after just a handful of matches for the relegated club.
Despite that, and having to go everywhere with his own personal translator, the 30-year-old former Celtic player insisted it was still a positive experience overall.
He is convinced he’ll actually be better than ever because of that brief spell in South Korea. All that was lacking was more game time and, more importantly, the sort of passion for football he was used to.
A hero with the Aberdeen supporters during his first five years at Pittodrie, McGinn said: “You miss the big games at Hampden, the excitment of the cup competitions.In Korea you do have the big crowds but not like here. The atmosphere is nowhere near as intense as you get playing for Aberdeen against the likes of Celtic and Rangers.
“It is certainly different in that sense and you miss that even if, all-in-all, it was definitely an overall experience I enjoyed in South Korea.
“Things probably didn’t work out as well as I would have liked with the football and the culture was obviously new to me, but I really had a good time so there was no moment when I was wishing I was anywhere else. I joined in the middle of the season and was playing catch-up. We had a change of manager and got relegated but everything else was great. That can only stand me in good stead.
“All the stadiums were built for the 2002 World Cup, so the facilities were brilliant but playing in the big games in Scotland and in front of big and enthusiastic crowds at Pittodrie every other week is something I did miss.”
McGinn’s first involvement of his second spell at Aberdeen will probably be in the Scottish Cup tie at home to St Mirren after the winter break as he continues to recover fitness following a recent hernia operation.
He had plenty of offers from clubs including Hibs, Hearts and MK Dons but the key to his decision was Derek McInnes rejecting the chance to take over from Pedro Caixinha as Rangers manager.
The opportunity to be reunited with the man who has been the biggest influence on his career was the clincher.
“I was delighted that the manager decided to stay and that was a major part of my reason for coming back to Aberdeen,” added McGinn.
“He has been the manager who has got the best from me and someone I have really enjoyed working with over the years.”