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Lee Keunho "Overwhelmed by incredible support" after ending 20-year playing career

Daegu FC forward and former South Korea international Lee Keunho has bid goodbye to professional football after a 20-year playing career. He did so in style, starting Daegu FC's last game of the season - a 2-1 home win over Incheon United. Daegu FC correspondent Muyeol Jung heard from the legendary player in the post-match press conference at DGB Daegu Bank Park. 

You finished the final game of your professional football career. How are you feeling after today's game?

"We came into the Final A round and there had been no victories for us. I thought that me announcing my retirement in the middle of the season may have affected the team in a bad way when Daegu needed to stay focused until the end of the season. Before today's game, players came together and reminded themselves of how important this game is going to be and they pushed together to get a win. So, I am grateful to our lads as well as the coach and his backroom staff. Also, grateful to be able to finish my last game with a happy ending."

Daegu boss Choi Wonkwon expresses his feeling that he wishes you didn't retire. Is there any specific moment or reason that led you to decide to retire?

"Well, I had been thinking about retirement at various points from last season, and I also had to carefully consider my physical condition. At the moment, I might be okay, but might not be in the next season or the season after. I concluded that it would be better to leave when I could still leave good memories with fans and players, which is what I believe now. I am sincerely grateful to the manager. For an old player like me, it would be difficult and demanding to train with youngsters every day for the same level of training, and he was incredibly considerate of me in terms of that. I am sorry and grateful to my boss for my retirement."

You just came back from your retirement ceremony. How was it different from what you imagined?

"I think it needed a lot of effort and work from those involved with the preparation for the ceremony, and I feel like I received more than I deserved today. Everything was perfect today, and this memory won't be forgotten in my memories. It was even more perfect than I imagined."


You said before that you wouldn't shed tears at the ceremony, but it looked as though you did today.

"Well, there were a couple of moments today that I got emotional. First, I got emotional when I arrived at the ground. And then, in the 22nd minute when fans stood up and gave a round of applause for one minute, that was the second. I had to focus on the game, but couldn't temporarily. Finally, when I was coming off the pitch, I felt something inside again. But I was able to hold it back until my retirement ceremony. I think it was almost like being on autopilot for everyone when you think about your parents. All of my family sacrificed themselves for me to shine and stood behind me, and those memories flashed swiftly through my mind. So I really need to make up to them from now on.

As a player, I think I received too much love from fans. I'd dreamt of becoming a footballer since I was very little and have been working hard towards that, but their love and attention were my driving force as well as energy. When things were good, they were happy for me and when they were bad, they were supportive and harsh on me to be able to develop further as a player. I recognised some familiar faces in the stands from the very early days of my career and those memories are flashing through."

Edgar and Hong Chul created two goals together. After Edgar scored the opener today, Daegu players came to you and raised you high up in the air. How did that feel?

"I was so happy. One of my close colleagues Hong Chul played a big part in today's win when it mattered. He came to me after the game, bragging himself, saying "I did a great job for you today" when I was appreciating his contributions (laugh). I am thankful to him for being a big help. Also, I personally like Edgar who is not only a great player, but also a great person on and off the pitch. He got me a surprise present yesterday, which was a nice pen. He said I might need that in my future career when I am going to do a business and gave it to me for a good wish. But today he gave me another big present [two goals]."

When did you think you wanted to finish your career at Daegu?

"I came to Daegu in 2007 and received a lot of love for two years. Thanks to that, I was able to become a national team player because I played well here. Since then, I have moved around several clubs in different countries, but Daegu FC have remained in my mind as a team that I am thankful for. I was grateful to be able to come back to Daegu in 2021. Since then, I always thought I should retire here. In fact, I got an offer from a K League 2 team for another year to play including a coaching role after that, but I personally thought that it would be more meaningful to retire at Daegu."

Do you have any regrets left behind?

"There is much relief rather than regret as my football career as a player is coming to an end. Of course, I will be sorry for the fact that I can't play in front of great fans and can't have that kind of feeling anymore but I have run for the last 20 years without regrets. I don't have any regrets because I have tried my best in every moment. I think I have finished my career really well."

Do you have any plans after your retirement?

"After I announced my retirement, luckily I received several offers. I got a message for an opportunity in a coaching role from some clubs as well as the KFA. Also, I received an offer from broadcasters for match commentary work. I am going to decide after careful consideration. At the moment, I am not ready to take on a coaching role because of coaching licenses. I am going to look at getting a coaching role step by step. What I am going to do now is become a commentator on TV. I did it before, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to stay connected with football, and watch games and I am leaning towards doing that."

You said that the Sun of Daegu will never set and there will be another Sun. Who do you think it will be?

Lee Keunho obtained the nickname "the Son of the Sun" when he rose to popularity thanks to his brilliant performance with Daegu in 2007. The flames in Daegu's crest symbolise the sun)

"I am sure everyone expects the same as I do. It's Go Ja-hyeon. Today we went out to do our warm-up in the retro kit for my retirement and Jae-hyeon came up to me, asking for my autograph on his shirt. He asked me to write down a name above my autograph and that wasn't just his name he wanted it to be, "The Grandson of the Sun, Go Jaehyeon." He did very well last season and entering into this season, I told him that you need to carry that form into three to four seasons, not just one or two seasons. Then you will thrive. This year he has gone through ups and downs with not being selected for the Asian Games, but he managed to overcome them. He is definitely the one to watch, and we should look forward to seeing him"

I would like to send a massive thanks to Lee Keunho for what he has done not only at Daegu but also in the national team. Also grateful to him for his off-the-pitch work in raising the voices of players as the president of the Korea Pro-Footballers' Association. I wish him the best of luck for your next chapter.

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