2006 saw Lee Chun-soo impress at the World Cup and almost everywhere else he played while national team-mate Lee Dong-gook was left Togel Singapore nursing a torn cruciate ligament and shattered dreams of missing out on a second World Cup.
Things change in football and January saw the Lion King, recovered from his injury, join Middlesbrough. There are few in South Korea who wouldn’t wish the striker the best of luck on Teesside after the misery of last summer. He could make his debut for ‘Boro on February 3 against Arsenal, followed by a fixture with Chelsea.
Lee Chun-soo was equally keen to head west but despite concrete interest from Wigan, the winger is condemned to spending a few more months in the K-League with Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i.
Like Middlesbrough the previous week, Wigan found that dealing with K-League clubs can be a frusatrating experience. Ulsan wanted to sell their star outright but Paul Jewell preferred a loan period for the 25 year-old. The talented attacker, just wanting to go, accepted such terms and his club reluctanctly follwed suit.
The problem came when negotiating what would happen at the end of the loan period. With the transfer window getting ready to shut, Wigan lost patience with the 2005 K-League champions and withdrew their offer.
It could be a blessing in disguise for Lee. Wigan have the look of a team destined for relegation and the Millenium Kid may have more options in the less frantic trading period of the summer.
Seongnam Get Busy
Amid the storm of transfer activity in Korea over the past month, there had been an oasis of calm.
Never shy of flashing the cash, 2006 champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma were conspicuous in their absence from the market with most of the deals, rumors and gossip focusing elsewhere in this corner of northeast Asia.
There were a few whispers in the wind regarding the fate of Ahn Jung-hwan. The striker chose Suwon Samsung Bluewings as his first K-League club in seven years, but for a while, Seongnam looked to be the most likely destination for the 2002 World Cup hero.
The money was there to bring the “Lord of the Ring” to the Seoul satellite city, but coach Kim Hak-bom shook his head and kept his hands in the pockets of his bright yellow club jacket.
A look at the club’s forward line revealed why the heavy-smoking coach allowed Ahn to ignore the Seongnam exit on the Gyeonbu expressway and continue driving south for just a few more miles.
2006 K-League top scorer Woo Sung-yong may have departed but the deadly Mota remains. Also vying for a starting place were $1 million former Romanian international Adrian Naega, Ahn Hyo-yeon and the tricky Brazilian Itamar.
Suddenly, however, the seven-time champions sprung into action like the mythical animal that appears on the club logo – Pegasus.
First to arrive was Choi Sung-kuk – $2 million was enough to persuade 2005 champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I to wave goodbye to their diminutive attacker.
The year 2006 was a strange season for “Little Maradona.” Like the rest of Ulsan’s strikers, his appearances on the score sheet were all too rare but despite his lack of goals, he was widely held to have enjoyed an impressive season, as a recall to the national team demonstrated.
Equally out of the blue was the $2.4 million that the club splashed on Kim Dong-hyun.
Still only 22, the striker has already played in four different countries, almost as many as the well-traveled Ahn Jung-hwan. His career started in Japan with Oita Trinita before he moved to the K-League and Suwon Samsung Bluewings in 2004.
First team opportunities were limited at the club and a year later, he was off to Braga in Portugal. The pattern continued in 2006 and the new year saw a new club in the shape of Russian outfit Rubin Kazan.
The big attacker made it back onto the national team for the experimental friendly against Ghana in October, in which he scored the Taeguk Warriors’ only goal in a 3-1 defeat.
With other players like Han Dong-won signing on the dotted line, Seongnam look well-equipped for the new season’s two-pronged campaign. Not only will the coach be looking for an eighth title, the club has some unfinished business in the Asian Champions League after being defeated in the finals in 2004.
Domestic matters come first, however, and there will be some fierce competition at the top.
Ulsan may have lost Choi to Seongnam but 2006 top scorer Woo Sung-young came the other way. The 33 year-old is one of a number of new arrivals at the south-eastern club.
Around $2 million was needed to bring Oh Jang-eun to Munsu Stadium.The midfielder starred in the second half of last season with Daegu FC and was rewarded with a place on the national team. He will be joined in the southeast by Hyun Young-min, who has returned to his homeland after a year in Russia with Zenit St. Petersburg.
In the southwest corner of the country, Chunnam Dragons have been shoring up its defense in preparation for a Champions League challenge. The Gwangyang club somehow persuaded Incheon United to part with defender Kim Chi-woo.
The 23-year-old made his international debut last year and will line up alongside national teammate Kim Jin-kyu, who brings his fierce shooting capabilities back to Jeolla Province from J-League club Jubilo Iwata.
It’s all shaping up nicely.