When Cho Kwang-Rae was manager, there were a few names that were almost sure locks to be on the teamsheet. Park Chu-Young, Jung Sung-Ryong, Ki Sung-Yueng, Lee Chung-Yong, Koo Ja-Cheol, and . . . Lee Yong-Rae.
Lee Yong-Rae is not a big, physical, tough-tackling player, but a small player with a decent left-foot. A player who’s job was to act as a passing counterbalance to Ki Sung-Yueng. In Cho Kwang-Rae’s vision of a Spanish-Korean team, Lee Yong-Rae would be the Xavi-esque player who would drift up and down the pitch, serving as an outlet to pass to, and who then would recycle the play or prompt an attack. And to some extent, it was a success. Korea looked much more comfortable in possession with the midfield triangle of Ki, Lee, and Koo knocking the ball around, and the future seemed bright.
But as history shows, it was not to be. Teams learned that Korea had a soft (and slightly slow) belly, and the key was to hit the midfield hard and fast on the counter. The idea of having a defensive midfield resurfaced, and of course, out went Cho Kwang-Rae, and that was the end of Lee Yong-Rae in the national team. Since Choi Kang-Hee has been appointed, Lee Yong-Rae has yet to be called to the squad. With Choi preferring a more true defensive midfielder in central midfield to partner Ki Sung-Yueng. A sentiment that is hard to argue with.
Born in Daejeon, Lee Yong-Rae joined Gyeongnam FC in 2009, where he spent two seasons, before moving to the high pressure atmosphere of the Big Bird Stadium in Suwon. Lee’s first season in Suwon, in 2011, was generally a success, and Lee started a number of matches for the Bluewings. 2012 also wasn’t too bad for Lee either, as he still made 25 starts. But since then he has faded badly. In 2013 he has yet to start, or even appear, for Suwon, and frequently he doesn’t even make the 18 man list.
Last season, I had one opportunity to watch Lee Yong-Rae in action live. At the opening round (Round of 32) of the FA Cup, when Suwon hosted Gangneung City (a third division team). A goal-filled affair that ended 5-2 to Suwon. It was actually close for much of the first half before Suwon, behind Stevica Ristic and Dzenan Radoncic put the visitors away in the second half. I was paying most of my attention to Lee Yong-Rae (and Jung Sung-Ryong) as they were the two NT players playing (Seo Jung-Jin also played, but he has yet to fully establish himself in the Choi Kang-Hee era). Lee Yong-Rae showed glimpses of why Cho Kwang-Rae used him so much. His movement off the ball was decent, as was his ability to keep the ball moving, but he seemed more restricted in his positioning. Generally staying deep and on the left. And as such he wasn’t too influential in the game, and tended to disappear for stretches, as Suwon started to be a bit more direct. From my viewpoint, it was difficult to see any reason for Lee Yong-Rae to be recalled into the national team fold.
With the national team seemingly more focused on being direct, relying on Ki Sung-Yueng to direct play, there doesn’t seem to be any need for another short passer. Lee Yong-Rae certainly lacks the range of passing (and vision) as his right-footed counterpart, and cannot serve as a direct replacement. His size and lack of pace also rules him out as a defensive midfield option. He is not a goal scorer, indeed he has only scored 2 goals since his move to Suwon, so he cannot replace Koo Ja-Cheol either.
Compared to our first player in this series (Yoon Bitgaram), Lee Yong-Rae doesn’t seem to have much of a chance to re-kindle his career, at least at the senior national team level. Already 27, and not even playing for his club, and lacking the skill set to replace any one player in the current set-up. A move to another, smaller KLC club would be good for him, but I haven’t heard of any moves in the offing. Unfortunately for him, Lee Yong-Rae’s moment seems to have come and gone.