January 22, 2007 08:54
Lee Dong-gook of Pohang Steelers will likely become the fourth Korean Premier Leaguer, following Park Ji-sung of Manchester United, Lee Young-pyo of Tottenham Hotspur and Seol Ki-hyeon of Reading.
England club Middlesbrough announced Lee's transfer on its Web site Sunday. Manager Gareth Southgate said that his Premier League team has negotiated with the Pohang Steelers on the transfer, conditional upon Lee receiving a work visa from the British Home Office.
The Steelers are optimistic that Lee will play with the England team. Steelers president Kim Hyun-sik said that the team agreed to send Lee to Middlesbrough even though the sides have yet to sign a deal. Those negotiations are nearly finished, Kim said.
The Steelers and Middlesbrough have narrowed their gap on the money: the Korean team initially asked for W1.8 billion to waive Lee's contract while the England club was willing to pay W370 million (US$1=W936).
Once the deal is done, Lee's next hurdle will be getting a work permit from Britain's authorities. The country requires that non-EU players must have played in 75 percent of their country's international games during the last two years, a condition that Lee has not met since he has not played with the Korea squad due to a knee injury. However, Middlesbrough expects the British Home Office to grant the permit in consideration of his injuries.
If Lee dons the Middlesbrough jersey, it will be his second time with a European team. He played briefly for Germany's Werder Bremen in 2001, but posted just one assist in eight games before returning to Korea. Mandatory military service came next, with Lee joining Sangmu, or the Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps, in 2003.
Despite the tough breaks, Lee remained determined to achieve his dream. "I want to prove how good I am as a soccer player," Lee said, before swallowing his pride as Korea’s best striker to try out for Middlesbrough last December. With great zeal, Lee satisfied manager Southgate.
KBS soccer commentator Han Jun-hee said that once the contract is signed, Lee will become the first Korean player to directly go to a Premier League team from the K-League. It is particularly noteworthy that Lee has been admitted to the Premier League without tangible match records last year, Han added.
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