Despite doubts, Lee signing warms my heart

December 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps In MLS, Whitecaps Season 2011 | Leave a comment

While I was off on vacation the Whitecaps announced the signing of Young-Pyo Lee, one of the giants of Korean and Asian football.  Lee’s signing warms my heart, because there is no doubt this guy has superb character.  His playing skill cannot be questioned, as his impressive run of 127 international appearances for Korea Republic demonstrates.  A number of those caps came as a player in the 2002 World Cup in which Korea Republic stunned and delighted the world by going all the way to the semi-final at home before losing a close match to finalists Germany.   On the way to the semi-final they beat European powerhouses Spain and Italy.

I loved that Korea team because of their heart, determination, character and pride.   To play in that side under Gus Hiddink each player had to have these qualities.

My only doubts with Lee are his age: he is 34. The last club he played with was Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia.  His club career is very impressive indeed up to that point, with time spent at top European clubs PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund.  But why was his last team Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia?

Soccer leagues in the wealthy Arab Middle East pay former stars whose careers are over at the top levels of the game in Europe  handsome fees to play in their leagues.  These leagues are where great soccer players go to die.  They collect million dollar paychecks they can no longer command in Europe on their way to their death as players.  Argentina’s great striker Gabriel Batistuta, and other great players, have cashed in on this kind of deal.

Having gone to this elephant’s graveyard of football, why does Lee want to get back into serious football in Major League Soccer? The MLS is a fast league with a reputation for hard physical play. Will Lee’s body be able to stand up to the challenge? He can’t be coming here for the money, because his pay check here in Vancouver will be nowhere near what it was in Saudi Arabia.

I can only guess that Lee, at the age of 34, has decided he is not through with serious football yet, and that he still feels the need for serious competition.   Word is that Lee will be played at right fullback.  Does he have the pace and fitness that a full back needs to get forward and put crosses in?  Or will he be more of a stay at home player who will work to organize the defence?  I suspect it will be the latter; new coach Rennie has made it clear that making the team hard to score on is job number one.

One thing that Lee will bring to the team is a wealth of experience playing in big leagues and in big matches, something our team lacks.  As a player in our squad he will have the most experience in big matches. This kind of experience is invaluable in a team.

It has been great to see the reaction of the local Korean community to Lee’s signing.  He is clearly revered amongst Koreans, and I suspect the Whitecaps will have another thousand or so season ticket holders, as well as many more individual ticket buyers strolling up.

While I do have my doubts about Lee’s age, I have none about his character.  Hopefully, when he pulls on his Whitecaps jersey, the latter will trump the former.

I think we have signed a winner.  Welcome to Vancouver, Lee!


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