October 27, 2020 11:13
Veteran striker Lee Dong-gook of Jeonbuk Hyundai will retire at the end of the season, he announced Monday.
Lee has scored 228 goals and lodged 77 assists in 547 games over his 23-year career in the Korean professional football league, holding the records for the most goals and the most offensive points.
"Ending this season with regret and gratitude, I have decided to leave the field on which I have poured out everything for my entire life. The decision to retire, I believe, is not the end, but the start of something new," Lee said in a post on his Instagram account.
He got off to a promising career start. In his K-League debut year with the Pohang Steelers in 1998, Lee was selected to the national team for the FIFA World Cup in France and won the K-League's Young Player of the Year award.
But it was not long before he experienced adversity and misfortune. He was criticized for not fulfilling his great potential after failing to make the final roster for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. In 2006, a torn knee ligament cost him the opportunity to play in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He moved to Middlesbrough in the English Premier League in 2007 but his time there ended unsuccessfully after just one season. He returned to his home team, Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, in 2008 but failed to impress there as well, scoring only two goals during the season.
In 2009 Lee joined Jeonbuk Hyundai under then coach Choi Kang-hee, which turned out to be the start of the most decorated period in his career. He won the league scoring title with 21 goals in the first year with the club, and posted double-digit goal tallies in 11 consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2019. During that period he was named the league's most valuable player four times, and set a record for the most goals scored in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League with 37 goals in 75 appearances.
On the national team, the striker played in 105 matches and scored 33 goals.
Lee, who earned a total of W1.01 billion at Jeonbuk last year, signed a similar one-year contract this year (US$1=W1,130). He has scored four goals in 10 games this season.
Jeonbuk, which are leading the league, will play their final match of the season against Daegu FC at their home stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province on Nov. 1. They only need to draw to earn their fourth straight league title.
"Thinking that the upcoming home game is my last match with the fans as No. 20, I already feel a lump in my throat. I will do my very best to put on a good performance to the very end," he wrote.
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