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His mouth has always been as big as his talent – but such a combination is hardly unique to Lee Chun-soo.
Dutch legend Johann Cruyff was as talkative off the pitch as he was supremely gifted on it, and Diego Maradona was hardly shy on either side of the white line.
Lee is not in the same league as those two world stars, but as one of Korea’s best and most famous players, he makes headlines on and off the field.
He has done both over the past few days.
Last Tuesday evening, he was in action for the national team in London. The opposition was Greece; a physical team with a style of play modeled more on the mighty Ajax than the wily Odysseus. It was Lee, however, who demonstrated that, on the Togel pitch at least, he has as many tricks up his sleeve as the king of ancient Ithaca.
Twelve minutes from time with the score goalless, the 25-year-old curled home a free-kick of rare precision and power.
It proved to be the only goal of the game and was a worthy winner.
The Korean media went wild with delight and Lee, a player who is prone to saying what he feels and thus provoking strong feelings among fans in his homeland, was universally lauded all across the Land of the Morning Calm. It was fitting that just after missing out on a move to England in January that the winger should have excelled in London, in front of a host of scouts and agents.
More than a few of those would have been relieved that Lee’s proposed move to Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League fell through and therein lies the problem.
Lee’s Korean club, Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I, declared that Wigan pulled the plug but the player’s version of events is different as he told the media in no uncertain terms.
Returning to Incheon International Airport, supposedly to join his club in preseason training later this week, he was met by a throng of eager reporters. The scribes wanted a word with the man of the hour and were as surprised as anyone as he dropped a bombshell that may have been best left at customs.
“Ulsan has to promise to help me get a transfer to Europe in July,” the baseball cap-wearing star announced.
“If they don’t, I may just rest for the next six months.”
Amid the squeaking wheels of the trolleys, the instant evaporation of the goodwill that was felt toward Lee could be heard.
The reaction to his threat was almost universally negative. Certainly his club was none too pleased.
More so, as the star also demanded that Ulsan sell him cheaply or follow the example set by of neighbors Pohang Steelers who let Lee Dong-gook join Middlesbrough for free in January.
After paying almost $3 million to buy him back from Real Sociedad in 2005, Ulsan are unlikely to do so especially as the younger Lee has more than12 months left on his contract, while the older one had less than two.
“The club is not a charity,” sniffed Ulsan president Kim Hyong-ryeong.
Lee’s remarks were more along the lines of giving vent to his understandable frustrations at not playing in one of the world’s best leagues than any arrogance – but he needs to be careful.
A self-imposed exile however would not only see the player lose his place on the national team, as Ahn Jung-hwan knows only too well, it would also cost him his chance to strut his stuff at July’s Asian Cup – a continental competition and global magnet for scouts and coaches.
With the Lee Chun-soo stock rising abroad, it would be foolish to give the impression that he is a troublemaker.
Any coach will admit that a new signing is a gamble; one from overseas more so and interested parties could be forgiven for thinking twice about importing a player who may refuse to play if he doesn’t get his way.
After he was banned for six games for swearing at a referee only three months ago, Lee promised to become more mature.
As a player, he is doing nicely, but as a person, there is still some way to go.