Is Premier League talent Chung-Yong Lee going to waste in the Championship?
CHUNG-YONG Lee got yet another glowing report on international duty yesterday as he warmed up for next summer’s World Cup finals with South Korea – but closer to home, is the winger’s star fading the longer he stays out of the Premier League?
Billed as one of the world’s top 50 rising talents when Gary Megson signed him for just £2.3million from FC Seoul in the summer of 2008, Chung-Yong’s fairytale first season in England now seems a long time ago.
The youngster who sprang from falling asleep on the subs bench minutes before his debut to catching the top flight unaware in a sensational first few months has now matured into a player still capable of genius on the ball.
But one serious injury and a failure to truly come to terms with the style of football outside the Premier League has undoubtedly taken its toll on the “Blue Dragon” – even if that has not translated completely to the terraces, where his popularity remains sky high.
Back home in Korea major concerns have been raised about how long one of their biggest talents can play outside of Europe’s major competitions.
After yesterday’s 4-1 win over Haiti in Seoul – a match in which Chung-Yong won two penalties for the Taeguk Warriors – one leading Asian commentator, John Duerden, tweeted: “Lee Chung-Yong is still a very good player. He’s wasting his career at Bolton in the Championship.”
Similar, if not a little stronger, opinions exist in the Korean media who were calling for Chung-Yong (as he prefers to be known on these shores) to leave Wanderers barely hours after their relegation was confirmed that awful May day at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium.
Back then, the clamour was tempered somewhat by the fact the midfielder had only just come back from a broken leg that had ruled him out since the previous July.
Chung-Yong’s fortunes undoubtedly started to head south the moment he took the pitch that day in Newport, where not long into the game he was stretchered off and needed oxygen after a horrific tackle that could easily have killed his career stone dead.
What psychological toll that sickening blow took is still a matter debated among Wanderers fans, but if he showed guts to get back to see the dying embers of the club’s Premier League days, he also showed some loyalty in sticking with the club for the last year in a cut-and-thrust style of football that does not suit him in the slightest.
Rumours of a move continued to follow him around – Stoke, Liverpool, Everton and Wigan to name a few of the clubs he was linked with – but were conspicuous by their absence this summer when, arguably, Wanderers would have been more receptivee to a realistic cash offer.
Although the deal itself was never advertised by the club, Chung-Yong does have another two seasons to run on his current contract and remains one of the more marketable names in Dougie Freedman’s squad, were the club to choose to cash in.
His inconsistency this season has been the least of the manager’s problems, although some believe the Korean has struggled on the left side of the attack in Chris Eagles’ absence and would bounce back to better form if restored to the right. Certainly, there were glimpses of his best during Wanderers’ fine run towards the end of last season.
Pessimists believe the physical nature of the Championship, coupled with the mental scars of his injury, may mean we may never see him return to the flying winger he once was. Watching him play at international level eases those fears but also reinforces the point he may need to find a better standard of football to progress further.
And there’s nothing worse than a wasted talent.