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(LEAD) Midfielder Lee Chung-yong signs with K League's Ulsan, ends Europe stint

All News 17:40 March 03, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; ADDS photo; UPDATES throughout with final deal)

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- After plying his trade in Europe for more than a decade, South Korean midfielder Lee Chung-yong is coming home.

Ulsan Hyundai FC of the K League 1 announced Tuesday they have signed Lee to "the largest contract in club history." Financial terms were not disclosed, though the deal will reportedly run for three seasons.

Earlier in the day, Ulsan said they had reached an agreement with Lee's former German club, VfL Bochum, to bring the 31-year-old back to the South Korean circuit. He went through his medical test before the deal could be finalized.

South Korean midfielder Lee Chung-yong poses in his new Ulsan Hyundai FC uniform on March 3, 2020, in this photo provided by the K League 1 club. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"I am pleased to join a team that has set such a clear goal of winning a championship," said Lee, who arrived back from Germany on Monday. "I was excited just to be preparing to return to the K League. I decided to sign with Ulsan because of their continued interest and support."

Lee made his professional debut with another K League club, FC Seoul, in 2004 as a teenager. He began his European career by signing with the Premier League club Bolton Wanderers in 2009.

Lee then moved to another Premier League side, Crystal Palace, in February 2005. And after the 2017-2018 season, Lee signed with VfL Bochum in the second-tier 2. Bundesliga. His contract was to run through the end of the current season, but Ulsan agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of transfer fee to pluck the midfielder off Bochum's roster.

Lee has appeared in 89 games for South Korea and represented the country at the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup.

After coming agonizingly close to a title last year -- they were in first place heading into the season finale but a loss cost them their first championship since 2005 -- Ulsan have made some significant moves to serve notice to the rest of the league that they'll be contending again. Before Lee, Ulsan also acquired playmaking midfielder Yoon Bitgaram and national team starting goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo.

South Korean midfielder Lee Chung-yong poses in his new Ulsan Hyundai FC uniform on March 3, 2020, in this photo provided by the K League 1 club. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan must pay FC Seoul a fee for signing Lee. When the player left FC Seoul, it was on the condition that Lee must first negotiate with the team if he wanted to return to the K League, and any other K League team that signs him had to pay FC Seoul.

A similar agreement proved to be the deal breaker when Lee's former FC Seoul teammate, Ki Sung-yueng, sought to rejoin the team last month. After his initial talks with FC Seoul fell through, Ki negotiated with another K League team, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. But Jeonbuk balked at paying FC Seoul for acquiring Ki, who ended up signing with Spanish club RCD Mallorca.

In this file photo from March 22, 2019, Lee Chung-yong of South Korea celebrates his goal against Bolivia in a men's friendly football match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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