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[Sports View]Lee’s giant leap is a test for him and for Korea

Feb 21,2007
“Bad luck” is something that Lee Dong-guk has been associated with since the 2002 World Cup. That year, Lee didn’t make the squad despite being a star in Korea’s domestic league. That team finished fourth, bringing fame and money to some of the players. At last year’s World Cup, the goddess Fortuna chose again not to smile on Lee. He got injured just before the event.
Now, Lee has gotten what is probably his last chance to raise his game and perform on the international stage. Lee will play for Middlesbrough of the English Premier League, just the fourth South Korean player to compete in one of the world’s top soccer organizations. Nevertheless, unlike Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyun, Lee has virtually no experience in playing in a league of that caliber. He served a six-month stint with Bremen of the German Bundesliga in 2001 and played in only seven games total, all in the second half as a substitute. His longest time on the field was just 34 minutes. The three other Koreans honed their skills in the Dutch league before making the jump to the Premier League.
It’s that big jump without a proven track record that worries me about Lee’s success with Middlesborough. If he makes the team as a regular and establishes himself, it will be a blessing for him as well as the national team. It’s no secret that the team does not have a sure weapon who can put the ball into the net when given the chance. Skipper Pim Verbeek has understood well the potential he could have from a successful Lee. That’s why he let him skip preparations for the national team’s exhibition against Greece, because adjusting to his new team is the priority now for Lee.
At age 27, he has realized his window of opportunity to blossom is closing. The fact that Lee agreed to take a trial test before signing with Middlesborough underlines this point. He understood that unlike Europe-based players, there was a need to prove his playing ability to a certain degree because a record in the K-League is not much of a credit in the eyes of the Europe-based clubs.
Players like Ahn Jung-hwan have turned down offers by foreign clubs that wanted to test him before signing, and Ahn had to sign with a domestic team after failing for a year to get a foreign club to sign him.
Lee passed the test and now it’s a clean slate again. Skipper Southgate has recognized Lee’s potential and probably said to himself that he is worth a shot. But it’s nothing more.
At the moment, the consensus here is that Lee is probably the country’s best striker. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, although his field coverage is somewhat limited. Also, his playing on the post has not been his strength, at least not until now. How he will fare in a league that has bigger physical players covering him will be the biggest question he must answer. Lee has a quick passing ability that he should use to create opportunities for his teammates in front of the goal by moving around and creating space for others. Scoring will be the ultimate way to get recognition, but when that is not an option he needs to create opportunities for others and slowly work his way into the lineup.


by Brian Lee Staff Writerafricanu@joongang.co.kr



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