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Lee Dong-gook to Play in Premiership

Posted January. 24, 2007 06:20,   


On January 23, after the Pohang Steelers agreed with Middlesbrough F.C. to give up receiving any transfer fees, Lee Dong-gook’s (28) entry into the English Premier League has finally been settled. This will be his second overseas career after six years since 2001 when he played in the German Bundesliga on loan in Werder Bremen’s jersey, but returned after failing to adapt. He will be the fourth Korean Premier Leaguer after Park Ji-sung (Manchester United), Lee Young-pyo (Tottenham Hotspur), and Seol Ki-hyeon (Reading FC). Here, we offer some answers to satisfy the public’s curiosity concerning this transfer.

There will be no transfer fees. Pohang has been demanding 1.5 million euros (approximately 1.8 billion won), but Middlesbrough has been reluctant to pay this, arguing that there are only two months left in Lee’s contract with Pohang. Respecting Lee’s determination, Pohang decided to renounce its right to transfer fees. However, it tagged a clause stating that Lee has to return to Pohang if he comes back to the K-League afterwards. In addition, if Lee Dong-gook transfers to another team in an overseas league, Pohang and Middlesbrough will split the fees fifty-fifty. Lee’s salary has not been announced.

The Premier League is known to have the fastest game tempo among the four major football leagues in the world. However, critics have been saying that although Lee is good in scoring goals, he is slow and usually refrains from physical struggles. Some even worry that he would return to K-League after wasting time warming the bench unless he actively takes part in defense and runs more on the pitch.

Experts, however, believe that he can complement his speed with finishing skills, just as Ruud van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid) did when he used to play in the English league. They predict that if he can take the advantage of his midfielders and wingers who will be offering more quality assists than what he used to get in Korea, he could do even better.

Shin Moon-sun, senior researcher of Korea Football Research Institute, said, “As long as he can make the most of his physique (185cm, 80kg) and his scoring sense, he can be successful.”

Currently, there are five attackers on the Middlesbrough squad. Nigerian Yakubu Aiyegbeni is the most secure full-time player in this position. While Australian Mark Viduka usually takes the other spot in the two-top system, Jason Euell is backing him up. So it seems that Lee will have more competition with Viduka than with Yakubu. Although Viduka is combative and takes brilliant shots, he is a 32-year-old veteran and is losing his stamina.

As for Lee, the key to his success is how fast he can recover his actual game sense after spending seven months in rehabilitation training after he injured his knee in last April.

Lee Yong-soo, a KBS commentator, said, “Suffering from his failure in the Bundesliga and the injury last year, which blew his chance to play in the World Cup, Lee must have learned a lot. Since he has been through all these severe hardships, his preparation at least in terms of mentality should be perfect.”

Similar to Pohang, where Lee has been playing, Middlesbrough is a city with a big steel industry located in the county of Cleveland in England. The football team was founded by the city’s cricket players in 1876. It joined the league governed by The Football Association in 1892. In spite of its long history, the team hasn’t been performing well, and has been frequently promoted from and demoted to the Football League Championship, which is the second-highest division in the English league system. The team has tended to be strong against strong teams but weak against weak teams. Although it has managed to stay in the Premier League for 23 years in a row, the Carling Cup of the 2003-2004 season is its only crown.