[SPORTS STAR]Humbled, Lee longs for a 2nd crack at EuropeLee Chun-soo, one of Ulsan Hyundai’s top star forwards, has undergone a makeover, dumping his previous mischievous behavior for a more mature approach to his game and life in general.
“In the past, if I didn’t get to play in an A-level match, I didn’t practice or train hard,” Lee said. “I would spend sleepless nights thinking about why I wasn’t included. So of course, I was in poor shape and didn’t play well.”
However, 24-year-old Lee is now a different person.
Coming into the friendly matches against Sweden and Serbia-Montenegro last month, Lee was in peak form, but didn’t get a chance to play. “Since I have been a regular member on the national team, this was the first time that I was benched for two games in a row,” Lee said.
“Certainly I had Dick Advocaat on my mind when I decided to play harder,” Lee said. “But if I had lost my composure, I wouldn’t have been able to play as well as I wanted to.”
If this had occurred in the old days it would have led to a slump, but the new Lee scored three goals and produced three assists in the first round of the K-league playoff championship against Incheon United.
In another game against the same team on Sunday, Lee scored one goal, though Incheon finished ahead, 2-1. In the first half of the game, Ulsan’s goalkeeper gave up a goal in regular play. Four minutes later, Lee evened the score. Even though Ulsan lost the match, its overall record still topped Incheon’s, securing the championship for the Tigers.
Another aspect of Lee’s game that is garnering notice is his free kicks. “I get excited when I have a chance to take a free kick. I feel that I can score or make an assist no matter what,” he said.
Whenever he has the time, he studies his free kicks and those of foreign players on video. He said he feels that his skill at the kicks could make his name, but he’s not yet satisfied.
When asked what he thought of the most valuable player award, something many think he is assured of, he said, “Everybody likes getting awards. Seven goals and four assists aren’t bad in 14 games compared to other players. If the team wins, it’s more likely for me to get the vote.”
As to rising star Park Chu-young, Lee commented, “He attends Korea University, the same university I went to. He’s like a younger brother to me. To be honest, I try harder so I don’t fall behind Chu-young’s standard of play.”
Playing 49 K-League games in total so far, Lee has scored 22 goals and produced 19 assists. “I didn’t have enough chances to assist Choi Sung-kuk, but I would like to if I get the opportunity,” Lee said. “It would be the ideal wedding gift from one soccer player to another.” Choi is engaged to be married on Dec. 24.
Lee is gearing up for a chance to play in Europe ― for the second time. “I learned my lesson. So I’m going to improve, right? I failed once and I will do better next time,” Lee said, speaking of his experience in playing for the Real Sociedad and Numancia football clubs in Spain.
“When I was in Spain, I hit the goalposts six times. If three or four of them hit the net, things might have been different,” he noted.
Lee said he hopes to play in the English Premier League, in particular, for Chelsea. “I feel that I’m best suited for fast-paced soccer.”
What is going to happen when he finally quits soccer? Lee wants to go into business, although he has no specific ideas beyond doing something related to soccer.
“I read a lot of books while I was in Spain just to kill time,” he said. “Mostly about business, and success and failure. Nobody is immediately successful without experiencing some failure. I was directly experiencing that at the time.”
Lee added that if he wins the MVP award, he wants to go to the ceremony with his girlfriend.
“My girlfriend is the source of my strength and helps me overcome my slumps.”
Lee said he would talk about their future after the World Cup in Germany next year.
by E Choung-hyoung