Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Chance For Lee The Phantom Menace

Korean soccer news.
Film fans of a certain age will always see the three Star Wars movies made in the seventies and eighties as the definitive trilogy and not the one which kicked off in 1999 with ‘The Phantom Menace.’ There can be little debate about that.

Not so about South Korean star Lee Chun-soo who has been more of a phantom than a menace over the past year. No other player that originates from the Land of the Morning Calm provokes such debate and divides opinions.

Over the past few years his career recalls the words of a certain Jedi Master Yoda who said upon meeting Luke Skywalker: "This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing.”

Lee always seems to know where he would like to play in the future but is often less sure about the place where he plies his trade at any given moment. Around 18 months ago, the 2002 and 2006 World Cup star told his K-League club Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I that unless they helped him move to Europe, he would go on strike. The attacker soon got his wish and the only strikes on his mind were those that came from boots left and right.

Joining former European Champions Feyenoord on the last day of the summer 2007 transfer window seemed to be exactly the move Lee wanted –almost. Talking to the Korean version of 442 before his departure, he announced that he wanted to use Feyenoord as a stepping stone to England.

Within a couple of months, he was back home in South Korea, homesick and disillusioned with life in the Netherlands and reportedly telling friends in the media that he wanted to come home to the K-league. After his short sojourn in Seoul, he returned to Rotterdam. Lee failed to shine and an ankle operation ended his season, and as it turned out, his Dutch adventure, early.

There is little likelihood he will go back. Suwon Samsung Bluewings paid $800,000 for a year-long loan for the 2005 K-League player of the Year. Few can imagine Lee swapping the blue shirt for the red and white one once again next summer.

It was Lee’s second unsuccessful sojourn in Europe after an 18-month spell in Spain after the 2002 World Cup with Real Sociedad and Numancia. After rejoining Ulsan in 2005, Lee quite reasonably pointed out that he hadn’t been ready for the challenge. Next time would be different.

It wasn’t really. A third opportunity in the west may be out of reach for Lee. It is a matter of debate as to whether this is good for the Millenium Kid but it is no bad thing for Korean and Asian football.

From 2005, when he almost won the K-League title on his own for Ulsan to 2006 when he single-handedly destroyed Japanese opposition in the A3 Champions Cup to the beautiful winning strike against European champions Greece in 2007, Lee was one of the most exciting and complete talents in Asia.

Now joining South Korea’s star-studded league leaders Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Lee will have the platform to shine once again as the club challenges for another league title and next year, perhaps a tilt at a third Asian championship.

Whether that will be enough for Lee remains to be seen but he still has a lot of football ahead.

copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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