Korean Youth Players Abroad: Lee Seung Woo

Nearly a month has passed since FIFA banned six Barcelona youth players, and for the first time, Sepp Blatter has spoken out: “The Barca case will be studied by FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee,” Blatter said. “But the rules for the signing of minors are very clear … The popularity of football also brings some dangers. The financial success of our sport makes it, unfortunately, of interest to international mafias, who get rich due to illicit activities like match-fixing or tricking underprivileged kids with false promises of a professional career in Europe.”

This is a real concern in football because unscrupulous agents often do trick youth players, but with the six Barcelona youth players in question, this is clearly not the case. We can only hope that FIFA will act reasonably and logically for once.

That brings us to the profile of the most exciting Korean prospect at La Masia: Lee Seung Woo, the 15 year old striker playing for Cadete B (U15).

If Paik Seung Ho has not quite lived up to the “Korean Messi” billing (he plays a different position anyway), Lee Seung Woo sure has. He may be familiar to you already. He appears quite frequently in Korean news sites and numerous Spanish football commentators, even those from Marca, have raved about his immense potential on Twitter.

Hailing from Incheon’s youth academy, Lee was first scouted by Barcelona at the 2010 Danone Cup in South Africa. It was the same tournament where Barcelona scouts met Paik Seung Ho; maybe Korean teams should play there more often! He emerged from the tournament as the top scorer with twelve goals, and joined Barcelona’s Infantil A squad (U14) the following 2011-2012 season along  with his teammate and compatriot Jang Gyeol Hee.

He has not disappointed, to say the least. In his first season alone he scored 38 goals and provided 18 assists in just 29 games. He had been the team’s top scorer and was played the most frequently – up until he was ruled ineligible to play. While academy players commonly score plenty of goals, his stats stand out as Messi-esque; Messi himself recorded 37 goals in 30 games for Cadete A. Looking at Lee’s highlights, it is difficult not to notice a resemblance to the “world’s best player” – the dribbling, the speed, and the ability to dribble through tight traffic and breeze past defenders are all present in Lee. His decision making and passing ability is exceptional for someone his age, and his ability to retain the ball is phenomenal as well. It is, of course, foolish to say he will become the “next Lionel Messi” as he is only 15 years old, but even Marca reporters felt the urge to make the comparison, saying that if there was any player from La Masia who could potentially rival Messi’s success it would be Lee Seung Woo.

Here are two videos that were not up when I originally posted this article in March 2013, but he just improves year after year – I believe these are some of the most representative highlights of his talent. For the most recent highlights, check out Lee Seung Woo and Jang Gyeol Hee – still going strong

And a full match highlight:

The 2012-2013 season was even more successful for Lee, who scored in almost every game and scored hat-tricks periodically. He had 22 goals in 11 matches with Cadete B, and he was even called up to the Cadete A team twice – in both of his Cadete A matches he came off the bench and scored a goal. Videos of his goals surfaced all over Youtube and the internet, and the same couple of videos were posted in at least twenty different websites, as well as on the Twitter accounts of several Spanish news reporters.

Lee was enjoying an incredible run of form until FIFA rudely interrupted – it is also interesting to note that Lee was the first player to get banned by FIFA. The La Masia twitter feed explains the situation pretty nicely, though the ruling has now been extended to six players, three of whom are Korean.

La Masia ‏@Youngcules Apparently Lee Seung Woo was the only player that FIFA has blocked from playing with Barcelona youth. Takefusa and Jang are cleared to play.

La Masia ‏@Youngcules Barca are now preparing to send a letter to FIFA to allow Lee to play. Their argument being it was the S Korean FA who offered him to FCB.

La Masia ‏@Youngcules Like I said the other day, an anonymous club reported Lee’s situation to FIFA, probably because they felt threatened by his talent.

La Masia ‏@Youngcules Singling Lee out when there are many players in a similar situation at both La Masia and many other club’s, seems very unfair of FIFA, tbh.

As of now, the only thing we can do is wait and hope that Barcelona can convince FIFA to let Lee and his teammates play once more.

Here are some encouraging quotes from the man himself:

“I watch Messi very closely,” Lee said. “I want to be a perfect player just like him. My goal is to try my absolute best to become the first Korean to play for Barcelona’s senior team.” Sometime after Euro 2012, he stated that he watched Cesc Fabregas’s movements as the striker for the Spanish national team very closely.

Lee also dreams of representing South Korea and playing for our national team:

“I watched Korea lose to Spain 4-1 in a friendly match in May,” Lee said. “It was heartbreaking. I want to become the youngest player in history to represent Korea at the Olympics and the World Cup.”

5 Comments

  1. It is a strange situation, that begs the question of how the registration of foreign youth players is handled. Lee Seung-Woo has been there for some time, and Barca has not been hiding him from FIFA or anything like that. If FIFA is truly concerned about illegal signings and trafficking of youths, then a better system must be implemented to track player signings.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree…Lee Seung Woo as well as the other youth players haven’t been trafficked. They’re getting an education and top notch training. This is a situation rival clubs are taking advantage of to sabotage some of La Masia’s best prospects.

  3. The rule in question prevents the international transfer of players under the age of 18. They can under three exceptions:
    1) Their parents move to the country for non-football-related reasons.
    2) If the player lives within the European Economic Area, they can transfer to any other country within the EEA if they’re over 16, and the club provides top-level training, academic education, and living conditions.
    3) If the player lives within 50 km of a shared national border and within 100 km of the club’s headquarters.

    The intent is to prevent exploitation of minors – e.g., a club brings in a poor kid from another country, then cuts him, kicking him out on the street penniless and homeless. Or, worst case scenario: outright child trafficking, using a club’s youth team as a front to smuggle in kids from another country.

    There’s also a bit of a nationalistic kinda thing in there – they want clubs to develop their own country’s players rather than bring in foreigners, and/or they want to stop foreign clubs from poaching young players from their leagues.

    In this case, I think it’s more a case of FIFA sticking too close to the wording, rather than the spirit, of the regulations. Barca is not trafficking kids from another country. obviously. And this regulation is almost never enforced – there are plenty of young players on youth teams all over the world who are not in compliance.

    • I agree with your point. It seems that these rules are a bit outdated given how freely people move all over the world now. It seems to me that if a family agrees to move for a youngsters footballing education then it should be allowed. I get the desire to develop more local players, but still. The exceptions seem quite rigid.

  4. I followed these news in the Spanish press. First it was only Lee Seung Woo. Everyone knows he’s the next star in Can Barca and he’s seen as an even greater prospect than Gerard Deulofeu. The other players were only sidelined some time thereafter. I would say this was just to give the appearance of consistency by FIFA.

    It does smell like something dirty coming from the capital of Spain.

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