Sunday, September 2, 2007

Good Week For The Two Lees

Good Week For The Two Lees.
It has been a good week for South Korean footballers and their exploits caused the ever-happy presenter on SBS sports news to smile even wider last week. “Finally”, she beamed, “Lee Dong-gook scores in England for Middlesbrough.” The next evening, she was at it again. “At the last moment, Lee Chun-soo returns to Europe.”

After seven months, eleven appearances and no goals with Premier League team Middlesbrough, the Lion King was looking less regal and more ragged by the week. Minutes spent on the pitch in the north-east of England were never plentiful but were dwindling further, as was his confidence.

Consequently, last Wednesday’s cup game against minnows Northampton Town was a crucial test for the former Pohang Steelers star. After the pressures of the Premier League, the cup game against a team way down the leagues would not only give Lee a chance to play a rare 90 minutes but an opportunity to impress that he couldn't afford to miss.

He didn’t. Lee fired home a low shot from outside the area in the second half to score his team’s second goal. Relief was evident on his face, his team-mates and the fans were obviously delighted. His lack of success had not been through any lack of effort.

“I have waited for the first goal for such a long time. Now I want more during the rest of the season,” a relieved 29 year-old told Middlesbrough’s local newspaper.

"I have been frustrated that I haven't been able to show so far what I can do but it takes time to adapt to English football, and I am still in that process.”

There is still much for Lee to do to persuade coach Gareth Southgate that he deserves an extension to the 18-month contract that expires in July 2008 but a first goal is a first step. The next one is obvious – do it again.

The same can be said of the other Lee, Chun-soo. There has rarely been a player so keen to move to Europe. The past 18 months have generated rumors and reports, some started by the talkative attacker, of interest from European clubs. Some were true, Premier League club Wigan Athletic almost signed the player in January and a few month’s later, Fulham were scared off by Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I’s asking price.

Former European champions Feyenoord had no such qualms and paid two million Euros for the 26 year-old’ who will be 30 when his new contract ends. The name of Feyenoord may no longer striker fear into the hearts of Europe’s giants but the Rotterdam outfit is a respected name on the continent and still a force in the Netherlands.

Lee is no stranger to Europe. The forward spent around 18 months in Spain from 2003 to 2005 with Real Sociedad and Numancia but he failed to impress. He headed back to the K-League in 2005, a move he soon regretted.

“Coming back from Spain to Korea was a big mistake,” Lee told reporters last week. “At that time, I had offers from teams in France and Germany.” He was resigned to staying in Korea until 2008. “I really thought that this season I would move abroad."

With the transfer window creaking shut, the call came. "I have got what i wished for. This is not an opportunity that comes often and I will not try to blow it," he said before leaving Incheon International Airport.

Lee deserves the chance. There is little more for him to prove in Asia but plenty in Europe. If he plays to his ability, fans in Rotterdam will be smiling along with news presenters in Seoul.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile


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