Korean K-League Football - Lee Chung-yong

John Duerden reports from Seoul

Lee Chung-yong is currently red hot in his white shirt for Bolton this season.

His team-mates call him 'Chungy' which may cause a few pained expressions back home but the overwhelming emotion in South Korea at Lee's English exploits is excitement.

The 21-year-old winger left FC Seoul in the summer to sign for Premier League club Bolton Wanderers. The team has struggled in the first half of the league campaign though there are signs that a corner is being turned. Amid the gloom just north of Manchester, the young Korean star has been a fairly constant bright spot.

Lee has scored three goals for the Whites and created more for others. His exciting skills, a willingness to run at defenders and his all round attitude and hard-work mean that Bolton fans have taken the Asian into their hearts.

Nobody at home doubted his ability. In the space of two short years he had become probably the most exciting talent in the K-League and established himself in the national team at an unusually young age. The only black mark against his Korean career was the fact that he occasionally lost his cool on the pitch. His lack of years was a mitigating factor but his immaturity suggested that a struggle to adapt to life off the field in the north-west of England. His slight frame also suggested that he may not be able to handle the rough-and-tumble on it.

So far it has not been a problem. Lee's speed and quick feet often leave bigger opponents floundering in his wake and he is really starting to enjoy his football. In mid-December, the former FC Seoul star grabbed his third of the season as Bolton defeated relegation rivals West Ham 3-1. With the scoreline deadlocked at 0-0, Lee's smart finish broke the deadlock and sent the team on the way to victory. He also created the vital second goal.

It followed another excellent performance four days earlier as Bolton held big-spending Manchester City to a 3-3 draw. For the second time in less than a week, Lee was named by much of the English media as his team's best player in that game too.

"It is great to be playing regularly and I hope that I can score more goals over the rest of the season when the opportunities come," Lee told Korean television after his West Ham performance. "I seem to be lucky as we have won all three games in which I have scored."

The Seoul media are excited. Scores of articles appeared lauding the star and more were written about what the English media was writing. Lee's success is a shot in the arm for journalists getting bored of Park Ji-sung's absence from Manchester United's starting eleven.

It would be a brave decision by Bolton head coach Gary Megson to leave out the youngster. The Englishman has much to thank Lee for. Megson has never been a popular figure among Bolton supporters and is he always just a couple of bad results away from serious pressure.

Lee has been a big success story. His exploits on the pitch have not only helped the Wanderers pick up valuable points, he has lightened some of the load on the shoulders of his boss. In return, Megson showered Lee with praise.

"He is getting stronger, his English is getting better and we are absolutely delighted with how he has settled in. He is getting very close to the other players - everybody likes him," Megson said.

"He has terrific qualities and he is starting now to get a bit of recognition up and down the country. He is getting goals and hopefully his confidence will come more and more and he will become a really big player for us. For the risk he took and also we took when we came together, we couldn't be more pleased."

At the moment, everyone is pleased.

John Duerden



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