Lee Young-Pyo is a versatile left-back who can also operate as a right winger or central midfielder. His abilities to tightly mark the opposing attackers and dribble down the flank with deft footwork have made him an indispensible member of the Taeguk Warriors squad over the past decade.
After making his international debut against Mexico on 12 June 1999, Lee was picked up by Anyang LG Cheetahs in the draft the following year. He made an immediate impact in his first season with the Cheetahs by winning the national championship, but he would go on to taste even bigger success two years later.
Having established himself in the national team during the Olympic Football Tournament in 2000 and the FIFA Confederations Cup the following year, Lee took part in the FIFA World CupÔ while recovering from a calf injury. He returned in time for the final group match against Portugal, where he subdued Luis Figo. Lee then set up the winning goal for Park Ji-Sung with an inviting cross from the left, before providing another precise pass for Ahn Jung-Hwan to head home the golden goal that eliminated Italy from the Round of 16.
In the wake of the unforgettable achievement at Korea/Japan 2002, Lee followed Guus Hiddink to join PSV Eindhoven where he won the Eredivisie title twice in three seasons. Lee was also an integral part of the Dutch side that reached the semi-finals of the 2004/05 UEFA Champions League, before his move to Tottenham Hotspur the following summer. His solid and industrious showing won over the fans at White Hart Lane, although he would have to fight for his place amid managerial changes later on.
Meanwhile, his second FIFA World Cup was to be a forgettable one as the Taeguk Warriors were eliminated in the group stage at Germany 2006. To make matters worse, Lee could not get enough playing time at Spurs the following season, and was transferred to Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2008. But after suffering an injury in his first season, his chances were limited to just 18 games in the Bundesliga.
Nevertheless, he kept on showing consistent performances for the national team in the preliminary competition for South Africa 2010. Lee became Korea Republic’s seventh player to have appeared in 100 international matches on 19 November 2008, when he helped his country to a 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. He was also a key figure in the Taeguk Warriors’ successful qualifying campaign, featuring in ten matches over the course of the third and the final round.
Lee continued his journey overseas by joining Saudi Arabian outfit Al Hilal last summer. Having been part of the golden era of Korean football for more than ten years, the 33-year-old will still be in his prime when the finals kick off in South Africa in June. But only time will tell when the Iron Man will call it a day.