Lee Seung-Woo at the Asian Under-16 Championships
Japanese U16 defender Tomiyasu Takehiro, after being a victim of a rampaging Lee Seung-woo performance that ended Japan’s Asian title dreams, simply said: “If you don’t foul him, then you can’t stop him.”
The Barcelona attacker, scored both goals in the South Korea win, but the second was something rarely seen, Special! Picking up the ball inside his own half, Lee ran past all layers of the Japanese defense, beat 6 players, left the goalkeeper floundering, and rolled the ball into an empty net with ease.
It helped the whole world wake up to what plenty in Korea and Spain already knew.
The 16 year-old wonderkid, who moved to Barcelona when he was just 13 has the potential to be a major star. The label of “the Korean Messi” was quickly bestowed, and it’s easy to see why: the dribbling, the quick feet, the running, the slight build and the sheer joy of playing soccer, when it comes so easily.
His Talents Had Been Discovered
His youth coaches in Korea have seen all of those traits over the years. Jung Jung-yong was in charge of the U15 team and worked with Lee from the age of 13. “He is a player that is close to genius,” Jung said.
“He already has most of what a top attacker needs. He is the kind of attacker that Korea finds it hard to produce. The opposition defenders don’t know what he is going to do and where he is going to go. He doesn’t think about them. He just thinks about putting the ball into the net.”
Lee, confident and composed despite his tender age, was already well known among soccer fans in his homeland, but now he is talked about on a regular basis in different corners of the Universe.
Playing With The Senior National Team
Uli Stielike has been coach of the South Korean national team for just a month but has already been asked more than once about what he thinks about the player’s chances to play for the senior team. Yes! He made a mouth-watering reply saying:
“Many people are talking about Lee, I haven’t seen him play yet, but I will keep an eye on his progress. This is an important stage in his career and he needs to continue working hard and growing as a player.”
There are still some ways to go, despite calls for Lee to play for the national team or at least be promoted to the Korean U19 side. While he played well against Japan in the quarterfinal and did so again in the semifinals matchup with Syria in which he scored one and assisted four of his team’s seven goals, he struggled in the final against a determined and well-organized North Korean team.
Defenders from the other side of the 38th Parallel doled out some physical treatment to Lee, especially early in the game, and gave him little space to work with. “It was so disappointing and frustrating to lose in the final,” Lee said after the game. “We will do our best to work hard and improve for the U17 World Cup.”
Watch Out For Lee At The Under 17 World Cup
Many Eyes will be on Lee in that tournament in Chile. The coach will probably be Choi Jin-cheul, the grizzled center back who was part of that backline at the 2002 World Cup. Lee is sure to be the main man next year, but Choi has warned that he is not yet the finished article.
“Individually, he has many strengths as we have seen” he said at the end of the tournament.
“He was born to score goals, he dribbles so quickly and is at a different level. He has a bright future but needs to become more in tune with the rest of the team.”
Choi believes that will come in time.
Lee Seung-Woo, A Barcelona Player
As of now, Lee is back in Spain but not allowed to play competitive games for FC Barcelona, as he was one of the youth players at the center of FIFA’s ban on the club’s transfer dealings until 2016 for illegally signing teenage players. While the club is confident that he will stay in Catalonia, it is wary of its young talent being tempted elsewhere before they can sign full terms at the age of 18, and become a mainstay of the first team.
That is certainly going to take time, but the rest of the world just has to wait until the World Cup to get another glimpse of the teenage South Korean in competitive action.
LEE SEUNG-WOO, THE KOREAN MESSI WITH THE WORLD AT HIS FEET. Watch Out!