Though I’ve stated numerous times that Paik Seung Ho and Jang Gyeol Hee are just as talented in their own rights and deserve attention as much as Lee Seung Woo, the public is clearly most interested in our very own “Korean Messi.” So are Taverngoers – articles that have “Lee Seung Woo” in the headline get a surprising number of reads on a daily basis. So today I will recap LSW’s youth career thus far (but focusing on everything that has happened after the FIFA ban). I have followed this guy since August 2011, and it’s almost hard to believe it’s been 5 years already. How has he been doing since the FIFA ban made him rusty, and how likely is it looking that he will make it to the senior team? Is it still looking like a dream seeing Lee Seung Woo score a winning goal in a Clasico, or is it looking more realistic now? More after the jump:
I have detailed most of Lee’s early history in my original Lee Seung Woo post more than three years ago. Tl;dr, LSW was a monster in his Infantil A and Cadete B before the FIFA ban hit him.
In between all he could do was play for the national teams. The competitive games he played included the U16 AFC Championship and the FIFA U17 World Cup. He also played three U17 games for the Suwon JS Cup, three more U18 games for the slightly older age group JS Cup, and captained Korea U18 in a friendly against England quite recently, where LSW was tested out in a midfield role. For Jae’s take on Lee Seung Woo back in 2014, read this post.
Destination #1: AFC U16 Tournament
Lee Seungwoo rating: 8.5/10 – amazing skill but poor physicality and looked for fouls too often. Bonus 0.5 for justifying his comments against Japan.
Opposition rating (5 = highest): 1
In that 2014 AFC U16 tournament LSW was only a little bit rusty. He could still produce solo dribbles, beat dribblers 1 v 1, and was chosen as the unanimous MVP of the tournament (though North Korea’s Han Gwang Song, playing for a club in Italy, was a close second). LSW reportedly had a physical trainer helping him adapt to the physical side of the game during the time he couldn’t step onto the pitch – it was a little disappointing to see him pushed around so much by the North Koreans, but still, he played heads and shoulders above his peers every time he stepped onto the pitch.
Destination #2: U18 Suwon JS Cup
Lee Seungwoo rating: 6/10 – showed his skill but again, poor physicality and dribbled into a wall too much
Opposition rating (5 = highest): 4 (older but also jetlag)
When the summer of 2015 rolled around LSW showed some serious rust. Picked by Ahn Ik Soo to play with the team that would eventually compete in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup hosted in Korea, Lee was the maknae of the team, yet started all three of the matches, against Uruguay, Belgium, and France. Now don’t get me wrong LSW was still pretty good, but his first touch wasn’t as good as it used to be and it seems he forgot how to finish at some point during the ban. This was also the first time when I felt that LSW had caught a good dose of Son Heungmin-itis, where you try to dribble past one man too many:
Destination #3: U17 Suwon JS Cup
Lee Seungwoo rating: 7/10 – was more at ease in his age group
Opposition rating (5 = highest): 3
A more convincing story unfolded at the 2015 U17 JS Cup in September, this time playing with ppl his age in preparation for the U17 FIFA World Cup the next month. LSW was a little better, and with the slightly less intense physicality of 17 year olds vs 18 year olds (yes, there is quite a difference), LSW held his own a little better, enough to be called the squad’s “best player.” This time around he finally started scoring for the NT again, with a PK and a well taken goal vs. Croatia.
Destination #4: FIFA U17 World Cup
Lee Seungwoo rating: 6/10 – showed that he was top class for Korean standards. But still needed to show more for his standards.
Opposition rating (5 = highest): 4
At the U17 World Cup, Lee Seungwoo played against Brazil, Guinea, and Belgium. Personally, I felt that LSW was a just a little underwhelming. Players like Lee Sang Min, Park Myung Soo, and “little Ki Sung Yong” Kim Jung Min really increased their stock, but Lee didn’t show his true colors. There were moments of brilliance, yes, but he didn’t live up to the “Crown Jewel of La Masia” billing. Failed to score, assist, and in the end missed what could have been a crucial penalty kick. Of course, the fact that he was going 2.5 years without playing competitive league matches didn’t help at all.
Destination #5: January 2016 – May 2016 with Juvenil A
Lee Seungwoo rating: 6.5/10 – again, flashes of brilliance, but the goals were slow to come, and the UEFA Youth League was quite disappointing as well.
Opposition rating (5 = highest): 3
In January 2016, he finally started to play for Barcelona again. He linked up with Carles Alena and Paik Seung Ho, and played more frequently in the LW than the false 9. A lot of Juvenil games were streamed due to the widespread interest in the comeback of PSH and LSW, and in those games LSW looked a lot like Son Heung Min – dribbling all over the pitch and beating defenders multiple times per game, but finding an end product very inconsistently. That being said, fans and coaches alike were willing to be patient with him due to the FIFA ban, and his preseason with Barca B was pretty promising:
Destination #6: Preseason with Barca B
Lee is officially supposed to play with Juvenil A this year, but I honestly think he might be ready to play with Barca B entirely. For starters, he did incredibly well in the Barca B preseason. I think it was pretty clear that LSW is the best attacking player on the team – he scored in almost every game he played, and in a game where he didn’t start, the team looked incredibly flat in attack until Lee came on. Last season LSW played one game with Barca B but got completely dominated physically, but this time he seemed more at ease, and is perhaps already prepared for full Barca B shifts – I believe he will get sufficient playing time anyway. I don’t know if preseason games are indicative of the actual Spanish third division in which Barca B plays, but I do wonder if Lee has gotten much better physically because he seems to have gotten better at holding up the ball over preseason.
A quick YT search of Lee Seung Woo will yield a lot of Barca B preseason videos, but here’s a short one:
How has LSW’s game has evolved
LSW’s game has largely remained the same, which is not surprising considering that we’re comparing pre-ban to post-ban. He still has his core abilities, he can still outpace defenders, he still plays those creative diagonal throughpasses, and he likes to do those across the box runs that we see Messi do a lot. He also still likes to start from the left wing and cut in diagonally playing one twos along the way.
LSW’s physicality and hold up play is still pretty weak as well, but I think he’s realizing how much it’s hurting him (on the bright side we’ve seen improvement from his first Barca B game to his Barca B preseason). In this sense, Hwang Hee Chan is a more useful player (as of now) than Lee, and I do believe it was fully justified for STY to call up HHC over LSW.
The ideal scenario en route to the FC Barcelona first team
I’m fairly sure I’ve gone over this before, but if LSW is dead set on playing for Barcelona, which I’m sure he is, he’s going to have to be patient and perhaps go out on loans. There is a 11 year gap between him and Messi/Suarez. Lee is almost 19, Suarez is almost 30, and Messi turned 29 last month. Messi might stick around for a long time but I suspect when Suarez turns 32-33 he will leave. And that is when LSW really needs to be fully ready to play for the first team.
So what does LSW do in those two-three years? First he needs to show that he can lead Barca B. That may happen this season, but it may also be last season. Right now, Barca B is looking incredibly poor – a 1/4 of the team it used to be maybe. Thus, it is in LSW’s best interest to leave on loan when he can. But when he leaves on loan he needs to be sure he’s ready to light up La Liga because to prove that he is Barca material he’s going to have to have a 10+ goal season with a upper mid table La Liga side.
The first (and ideal) scenario is LSW starts playing for Barca B permanently ASAP, scores 10+ goals, then gets loaned out to Valencia/Sevilla/Villarreal the summer of 2017. There he will start building hype and draw comparisons to Neymar/Messi, and in the 2018-19 season, join up with Barcelona and hopefully get playing time to support an aging Suarez. But perhaps a more likely scenario is LSW spends this summer flitting between Juve A and Barca B, spends next summer doing well with Barca B, and then goes on loan, eventually joining Barcelona in 2019. By this time one of Suarez/Messi will have left or be played a little more sparing due to age a la Xavi back in the day.
I don’t know how this will play out, but remember that Barcelona is way too stacked for Lee to get into the team anytime soon (Messi had it really nice didn’t he..) Plus, he has to worry about competition from other Barca B talents, namely Munir. But I suspect Munir will have left by the time Lee comes around, because Munir isn’t going to play regularly anytime soon. However, La Masia is a little short on FW talent, so LSW shouldn’t have too much competition from his hoobae’s/sunbae’s outside from Munir.
This is also where Lee Kang In has a bit of an advantage. He’s not only every bit as good as LSW, but also doesn’t have three of the best strikers in the world (many would say three of the four best players in the world) to compete with. If LKI is lucky, he could start playing for Valencia at a very young age. That being said Valencia seems to be more conservative than Barcelona with introducing their Mestalla talents into the first team. This is reflected by the fact that LKI + Nabil (the star FW of LKI’s age group) are playing in the same Cadete A league again this year, rather than having them make the jump to Juve B.
LSW is fortunately at just the right age where if he’s patient, and works out every little kink in his game before he makes the jump to Barca A, he can become a real monster. Messi was hype when he was 18, but so was Munir, Deulofeu, and Bojan. The difference is, Messi continued to improve (because he didn’t have an uber stacked first team to compete against back then and got good sub minutes even as a 16/17 year old), while the others had their growth stunted a little (though Deulofeu is getting better at Everton and Munir is staring to find confidence again). LSW also has to keep growing like Messi did, and the best way to do that is 1) rip apart the Spanish third division then 2) go on loan to a good first division team. He has time – Messi and Suarez won’t age out for a while – so I do think patience really is the key word here.