The line between success and failure is a fine one, especially in the English Premier League, generally regarded as the world’s top football competition. In the case of South Korean striker Lee Dong-guk, that line was about as wide as a goalpost.
The Lion King moved to Qiu Qiu Middlesbrough in January 2007. His debut came a month later against Reading. Lee was introduced as a substitute with around eight minutes remaining. Seven minutes later, England international winger Stewart Downing fired over a perfect cross from the left side. Lee was unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box and let fly with his right foot. He wasn’t the only one in the stadium to put his head in his hands after the ball bounced off the post and rolled agonizingly away.
Though he wasn’t to know it at the time, that was the closest Lee was ever going to come to scoring a goal in the world’s richest league and things could have been a lot different. As it stands, the striker is about to be shipped out of England’s northeast. If there was any doubt about that, it was dispelled last week by head coach Gareth Southgate.
“… He has not played as well as we might have hoped,” said the former England captain. “For him and for the team I think it’s been better to involve other players really.”
The softly-spoken Southgate has given the Korean ample opportunities to prove that he has what it takes. Eight starts and 15 substitute appearances may not be as much as the player wanted but in the modern high-pressure world of elite football where coaches can be fired after three or four poor results, it is more than many get.
With Lee’s contract …