Lee lives up to his moniker as ‘Korean Messi’
The South Korean wunderkind had already gained recognition from fans when he broke the legendary Lionel Messi’s record after scoring 39 goals in 29 games for Barca Infantil A team at the age of 13. However, the hype came to a halt as dramatically as it began when Lee became a victim of the FIFA crackdown on its Youth Eligibility Rules in 2014. He was banned from playing for Barca until he turned 18.
Lee finally turned 18 this year on Jan. 6 and it did not take long for him to prove that he was not over-hyped.
Not only did he dish out two assists at the match against Lleida Esportiu on Feb. 13, but he also netted his debut goal for Barca Juvenil A 70 minutes into the match. Lee’s goal came from a penalty kick he earned while penetrating Lleida defenders. It was clear during the match that his astounding ball handling is still top notch
Lee’s outstanding performance has been long-anticipated for Barcelona and also his family. The staff and management at La Masia, Barca’s training facilities, have recognized Lee’s potential and gave him star treatment from early on.
On top of the 1 billion won ($810, 208) salary, the team has provided his family a luxury condo in the city as well as a relocation fee. The condo is only three stations away by train or 10 minutes away by car from Camp Nou, Barca’s home stadium.
While Lee has no particular hobby, he has started collecting hats and shoes in different colors and styles.
Lee also likes to have company visit his house. “Everyone in our family likes to have people over,” said Lee Young-jae, Lee’s father. “I’m aware that my son is called “Korean Messi” by the media and the fans around the world. But for us, he is just our baby son.”
When asked about frequent guests, Choi Soon-yeong, Lee’s mother, said “I have to cook a lot when guests are over. But it is nice to have friends and family in a foreign country.”
Lee is well aware of the attention he receives from global fans. His potential was so incomprehensible that when Lee heard about his 228 billion won potential economic worth reported by JoongAng Ilbo on Jan. 21st, he was flabbergasted.
“I was utterly dumbfounded when I heard the news,” said Lee. “I will do my best to live up to that expectation.”
After he turned 18, Lee’s name was listed in Barcelona’s roster for the UEFA Youth League play-off. He aims to score his first UEFA Youth Champions League goal in the match against FC Midtjylland from Denmark on Feb. 23 in the Round of 16.
BY SONG JI-HOON, CHOI HYUNG-JO [firstname.lastname@example.org]