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'K League is the best place to show my skills': Lee Seung-woo

Lee Seung-woo has shown that he can cut it in men's football. His return to K League from Europe has, so far, been a success. He's Suwon FC's leading goal scorer and is playing consistently well. He, therefore, deserves a call-up to the Korean national team and at least to be considered for the World Cup in Qatar.

His form speaks for itself. The impact he's had as an extra dimension to Suwon FC's attack too has been noticeable. But what's been most conspicuous is his absence from the Korean national team squad. The June friendlies might have been understandable as this was a squad made up of the Europe-based stars as well as those based around Asia. Plus, Lee had only been back in K League for a few months. But being left out of the EAFF E-1 squad was a real head-scratcher, a squad made up entirely of players from K League bar one - Kwon Kyung-won of Gamba Osaka.

If this omission is Paulo Bento trying to make sure that Lee Seung-woo is in peak form and is the most fired up he's ever been then it's a very clever tactic. Whatever the reason may be, be it a snub or something else, it's working. 

Lee, in an interview with K League United at the tail-end of August admitted that this desire to prove himself is what's keeping him going. 

"Definitely," he says to the suggestion that there is a clear determination and drive in him. The way he's playing shows how determined he is to prove he's the real deal. Adding: "In the national team, you can grow so much as a player, and also is something that I’ve always been dreaming about as a professional. I’d like to get into the national team squad regularly, to see how I play against other teams. To see how I have improved over time. My desire to do so is bigger than anyone else out there, and I want to show my eagerness including in every training session and match. So, if I do get a chance to get into the national team squad, it would be great motivation and a driving force for me to get better."

He admits, too, that he came to K League in order to play his way into Paulo Bento's plans. This, of course, is no secret.

"As it’s a World Cup year, in order for me to even get a shot to play for the World Cup, I needed to find a way to get as much playtime as possible, to show my skills, to be in the best possible condition. In that sense, K League seemed like the best option for me to do so. Also, the coach helped me a lot to feel at home here. I decided that now is the time to settle down, rather than going for another challenge. That mindset led me to K League."

Lee has, of course, been in Bento's squads before. He has 11 caps for the full national team, most of which came under Bento. He was also involved in Bento's first match in 2018 - the 2-0 win over Costa Rica - having just been to the World Cup in Russia a few months before but played just seven minutes off the bench in Goyang that evening.

Iut was perhaps a sign of things to come for Lee as he remained on the bench for the next three matches and then was out of the squad completely for the friendlies with Australia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia. A call-up came for the AFC Asian Cup in 2019 but Lee was an observer for the group stage matches and played just 37 minutes across the two knockout games. His last involvement was later that year, with two second-half cameos against Bolivia and Iran. He hasn't been called up since.

But a lot has changed since November 2019. Lee was in Belgium and playing for Sint Truiden having made the move from Hella Verona in Italy. He wasn't playing regularly and didn't do so until the following season when he played 15 times (13 starts). 

He's now playing for a team that wants him and for a manager that seems to know how to get the best out of him.

"Everyone, including the director and the coach, sounded genuine that they wanted me. Also, it seemed like they could really help me do my best here. It actually was a huge challenge for me, and a tricky choice. I would say the key factor for my decision was the coach and the director’s support. I truly felt the genuineness from the club."

Manager Kim Do-kyun has been in charge at Castle Park since the 2020 season and has done a fantastic job. The former midfielder guided Suwon to promotion via the playoffs that year and then kept the team in the division the season after, finishing fifth. It made perfect sense, then, for the club to give Kim a new contract. His stay has now been extended to 2024.

Kim also has Lee Seung-woo's ear and is helping him improve. Even though Lee was part of La Masia, the Barcelona youth system, and was once known as the "Korean Messi", he knows he has things he needs to improve. He's humble enough to admit that and has come to K League, and Suwon FC, to learn.

"I try to communicate with everyone as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if it is during the training session or on the pitch. Just like anyone else out there, I myself have some bad habits or things I should improve on. It’s been a huge help to be able to work with the coach, who clearly points out such things and helps me understand. As a coach, he makes it easy for players to understand his demands or needs. So, players can take constructive criticism quite easily."

So, what are his aims for the rest of the season? Well, he isn't too bothered about the golden boot, which is something he could win. He's Suwon FC's top scorer with 11 and is only three behind Joo Min-kyu who seems hellbent on winning the golden boot for the second season running. 

He knows he has to earn his place in the squad and, for now, that's his motivation and isn't too despondent about being left out so far this season:

"I believe it’s natural for a professional player (to want to play for their country). Paulo Bento is the coach for the national team at the moment, so I should just prove myself on the pitch as much as possible. That is what a player can do, and all I can do after is wait for the good news...Everyone wants to get into the national team, but you need to earn that place. So, I just have to do my best and be as fit as possible. Once I do so, the rest is up to the coach. All I can do is wait."

It's a waiting game for Lee Seung-woo and others who are hoping they can attract Bento's attention, such as Lee Kang-in of Real Mallorca. If they keep playing like they have been doing then they'll be hard to ignore. If things go wrong in Qatar and Korea fail to make it out of their group (Ghana, Portugal, Uruguay), and Bento hasn't given some of these players a chance, it might be that he's created a rod for his own back. 

Where can I read or hear more?

[PATREON: The day I met Lee Seung-woo]

Listen to the interview on the K League United Podcast

KLU Patreon

Watch on YouTube

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