In final year of deal, Lee eyes options

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In final year of deal, Lee eyes options

This is the final year of Jeonbuk Motors striker Lee Dong-gook’s contract. But no news has come from Lee, 33, the so-called Lion King, or from the Motors. Lee has been one of best Korean strikers in the K-League Classic for years under the leadership of Choi Kang-hee, who recently returned to the team after his rough experience as the Korean national team manager. Sources in the league say Lee has three options: extend his contract with Jeonbuk, play for the Pohang Steelers, or move to a team in the Mideast.

Lee moved from Seongnam Chunma to Jeonbuk in 2009 with a two-year contract and extended it twice. When a contract expires, a team generally offers a new one a year ahead of its expiration. But Lee likely won’t negotiate with the team until after the season. Staying with the current team is usually the best option for a veteran player like Lee, but if that’s not possible, he should consider other alternatives, including playing overseas, if he wants to continue his career.

The Pohang Steelers are a special team for Lee. He was born in Pohang and graduated from elementary, middle and high schools there. He debuted with the Steelers in 1998 and played there until 2006. Lee also played for Gwangju Sangmu, a team operated by the military, for his two-year military service from 2003 to 2005. The Steelers are managed by Hwang Sun-hong, a former Korean national team striker and Lee’s mentor.

“It would be a huge plus if we can sign Lee,” Hwang told the JoongAng Ilbo. “But the problem is his price. He currently receives about 1.5 billion won [$1.39 million] in salary, which we can’t afford.”

Club officials told the JoongAng Ilbo that they aren’t considering landing the league’s best striker.

Sources in Jeonbuk said Lee wants to stay on the team. He adapted to Choi’s strategy and was able to win the K-League championship for the first time in his career in the 2009 season with Jeonbuk. He became the league’s top scorer that season and Choi gave him a chance to play for the national team. Also, Jeonbuk fans love him.

Lee recently bought a house in Jeonbuk, indicating that he wants to stay. But Jeonbuk hasn’t made any moves regarding his contract. Lee injured his right knee in August and expected to be back on the field in October. But Kevin Oris has been successfully covering Lee’s spot.

It’s unlikely that Lee will move to a foreign league. Teams in Japan and China usually sign players who are in their early- and mid-20s. Teams in the Mideast have signed some veteran players, but there are concerns that Lee hasn’t recovered from his knee injury.


BY OH MYUNG-CHUL [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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