Socceroo Bruce Djite enters into unknown with PSM in Indonesia
Even for an unusually well-travelled footballer like Bruce Djite, who was born in the United States to African parents, a move to Sulawesi in Indonesia seems exotic. The K-shaped island is more than 1500 kilometres from Jakarta, and a long boat ride across the Java Sea to the holidaying Australians in Bali.
But the former Socceroo striker seems more than comfortable with his new life at PSM Makassar.
The club known as the Eastern Roosters finished third in last season's Liga One. And under Dutch coach Robert Alberts, Djite fills the AFC import spot, alongside fellow foreigners Marc Klok and Wiljan Pluim -- both midfielders from the Netherlands -- and French central defender Steven Paulle.
After 18 months with Suwon FC in Korea, the 30-year-old comes to a fast-improving, 18-team league that attracted ex-Premier League stars like Michael Essien, Didier Zokora, Mohamed Sissoko and Peter Odemwingie last season.
"Indonesia is investing a lot into its football and more high quality foreign players are entering the league every year," Djite told ESPN FC.
"I expect to play in front of capacity crowds every week, with a high-tempo game in testing weather conditions. I am eager to face the likes of Essien and co. [Former A-League Golden Boot and Indonesia international] Sergio van Dijk was a great sounding board during contract negotiations with the club, and I could see from day one just how passionate the fans are."
Of the influx of big names for the 2017 season, only Essien remains. However, ex-Newcastle United and Liverpool midfielder Danny Guthrie has signed with Mitra Kukar for 2018, while former West Ham United and France winger Julien Faubert has penned a deal at Borneo.
Borneo are the former club of two-time A-League Golden Boot Shane Smeltz, who predicted that Djite would have a successful two-year stint with PSM, while advising him to "go with the flow" at certain times.
"Bruce is experienced, and he's gone to a good, settled team, with the same coach and foreigners as last year, which will help him," Smeltz told ESPN FC. "But the standard of football, facilities, structure are not the same that he's used to in Korea or Australia. So my advice is to be open to certain things, to go with the flow, and don't let them get to you -- or it will affect your football."
With two children under the age of three, Djite toyed with the idea of returning to the comfort zone of the A-League. His second stint at Adelaide United from 2011 to 2016 couldn't have had a better ending as he won the Premiers' Plate and Championship double, topping the scoring charts with 11 goals in 25 matches.
"My last season in the A-League was as close to a fairy tale as one can get, so the extremely slim chance of repeating those feats with Adelaide United also made me feel like it is better to stay overseas, for the time being," Djite said.
"I also want my children to live in different countries, experience different cultures and see how people other than Australians live. I think this will be my last experience abroad because of the timeline I've mapped out for my football career and taking into account that I want my children to start school in Australia."
Having been born near Washington D.C. to an Ivorian father and Togolese mother, Djite was three years old when his family arrived in Sydney. He was a youngster at the now-defunct Northern Spirit and Marconi, before announcing himself in the A-League as a raw striker at Adelaide United more than a decade ago, alongside fellow teenager Nathan Burns.
They were both part of Adelaide's unlikely run in the 2008 AFC Champions League after Djite was named A-League Young Footballer of the Year, although the pair had departed for different European clubs by November's two-legged final against Gamba Osaka.
Eligible to represent four nations, Djite made his senior Socceroos' debut against Singapore just before his 21st birthday in 2008, coming on as a substitute for 2006 World Cup captain, Mark Viduka. With nine caps and no goals over two and a half years, his international career didn't reach its potential, but Djite says he has no regrets.
"I have nothing but fond memories from my time with the national team," he said. "While I would have loved to have played more games for the Socceroos, I think any national team player would say the same thing, regardless of whether they have one, 50 or 100 caps.
"I think my game has improved every year throughout my career, whether it is decision-making, game awareness, finishing, and improving the capability of my right or left foot."
After enduring a goal drought in his second stint at Adelaide United -- he netted just seven times in 40 games between 2012 and 2014 --- Djite battled through and re-found his scoring touch. Now, he fully embraces the challenge of carrying the burden up front.
"Certainly with experience, the word 'pressure' becomes less and less appropriate to me. I prefer to use 'responsibility'. As a foreign player, there is a certain responsibility to reach a desired level, at training or in games, because, after all, you are taking the spot of a local player. Ultimately, my job is not just to score goals, but to help the team win," Djite said.
As an import striker, Djite has already witnessed the passionate fans of Turkey, China and South Korea. But with the Indonesian football scene stretching from Aceh in the west to Papua in the east -- an 11-hour flight via Jakarta -- Adelaide United's highest-ever scorer could be in for a wild ride when the Liga One season kicks off on Mar. 3.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.