Lee retires after illustrious football career

November 14, 2013

By Jung Min-ho

Lee Young-pyo

Lee Young-pyo

The long, ceremonial departure of Korea’s golden generation of footballers continued with Lee Young-pyo’s retirement news conference in Seoul on Thursday.

The 36-year-old fullback, who in his prime displayed an impressive mix of smarts, industriousness and trickery, was among a group of Korean talent who came to prominence in the World Cup held in Korea and Japan in 2002, when the Taeguk Warriors finished a surprising fourth.

After the World Cup, Lee went on to have a decent career in European football and is considered the only player to have a convincing case at challenging Hong Myung-bo’s title as the country’s best defender ever.

Lee unveiled his plans to retire last month as his season with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Major League Soccer (MLS) winded down.

In the news conference in Seoul, Lee said he never considered himself a great player but has been ”perfectly happy’’ about playing football for a living.

“I’d like to say goodbye to the fans as a player after having much joy in victories and bitterness in defeat,” Lee told reporters at the Korea Football Association in Seoul.

“I will no longer feel that happiness, but I have no regrets of the past 27 years that I have been playing football. Most importantly, I will never forget the games that I played for Korea’s national team. Every time the national anthem was played, I felt a great joy to be a part of the experience.’’

Lee said he started to think about retirement about six years ago when he felt his motor began running slower.

”It was hard for me to accept my physical regression at first,’’ he said.

”My recent teammates in Vancouver didn’t know about my worries. They even asked me why I would ever retire. But I didn’t want to keep playing to the point where my teammates begin to feel my stamina problems and get concerned about it.’’

Lee started his professional career in 2000 with Anyang Cheetahs, which preceded FC Seoul, in the K League Classic. After the 2002 World Cup, Park moved to Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, along with compatriot Park Ji-sung and enjoyed league titles under manager Guus Hiddink, who was also his World Cup coach.

Both Lee and Park moved on to the English Premier League in 2005 – Lee with Tottenham Hotspur and Park with Manchester United. After three seasons at White Hart Lane, Lee joined Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga in 2008.

As his athleticism began to fade, Lee struggled to find further demand in European football. He played for a club in Saudi Arabia before reaching the MLS.

Lee represented Korea in three World Cup tournaments, including the latest one in South Africa in 2010, and ranks third all-time among Korean footballers with 127 caps.

When asked what is good about not playing football anymore, he said the only thing he didn’t like was physical and mental pain that comes almost every day with joy.

“I’m free from it now,” he said. “As a player, I had to accept and endure it.”

Lee is the latest member of the ”Hiddink boys’’ to leave the game. The veterans of that 2002 team, such as Hong and Hwang Sun-hong, are now in the thick of their coaching careers. Song Jong-guk and Ahn Jung-hwan are television personalities.

The mercurial Lee Chun-soo is still playing, but probably not for much longer as he continues to allow off-the-field issues to derail what had once been a promising career.

Park, the most high-profile player among the group, is diminished and seems to be on his last legs playing limited minutes for PSV Eindhoven, where he returned in the offseason.

Lee did not cry during the press conference. A smile never left his face, although his voice got caught on the words at some moments.

“While I prepared for retirement, I cried a lot. It wasn’t because I was sad but because I was so grateful for those helped me though it,” he said. “That’s why no more tears here. They are all gone.”

He said there were things that he wanted to do other than playing football, although he didn’t specifically say what.

“The reason why I don’t want to talk about future is that there are many uncertainties. Yes, there are things I want to do and feel responsible for,” he said. “For the next two or three years, I just want to learn.”

According to Metro News in Canada, Lee will study sports administration at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.