Go to Contents Go to Navigation

Veterans looking to lead Ulsan to 2nd straight K League title

All News 11:01 January 12, 2023

ULSAN, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- Ulsan Hyundai FC midfielder Lee Chung-yong is no longer the team's captain, but his goal remains the same: to bring home another championship in the top South Korean football league.

With Lee leading the way, Ulsan captured the K League 1 crown last year, their first title since 2005. Lee was voted the league MVP to cap off a memorable season, and recently signed a two-year extension that will keep him in the southeastern city through 2024.

"I never once thought I would leave Ulsan for another team," Lee said at a press conference Wednesday at Ulsan's clubhouse. "It feels a bit weird not seeing some of the players from last year's championship team. But that's par for the course. Unless we elevate our game further, we will lose our championship throne. We have to put last year behind us and start with a fresh mindset."

Ulsan Hyundai FC midfielder Lee Chung-yong takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan Hyundai FC midfielder Lee Chung-yong takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Lee had a charmed two-year run as skipper, having earlier helped Ulsan win the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League title in 2020. He has ceded the armband to defender Jung Seung-hyun for this season, but Lee will continue to be a part of the leadership group.

"Though I am no longer captain, I want to keep building our unique team culture," Lee said. "The key is to strike the right balance, so that things are neither too rigid nor too loose. We want to create an environment where players respect one another and can concentrate on football."

Lee, who will turn 35 in July, said he is not taking his foot off the pedal even as his career winds down.

"The longer I play, the more I want to make sure I won't have regrets after retirement," Lee said.

Ulsan have lost some players over the winter, but they didn't just watch them leave. In perhaps their most significant acquisition, Ulsan reunited with forward Joo Min-kyu.

Joo, 32, is not the player that he had been in his first tour of duty with Ulsan in 2019, and in a good way. Playing for Jeju United in 2021, Joo won the K League 1 scoring title with 22 goals. Last year, he tied Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors forward Cho Gue-sung for the league lead with 17 goals, though Cho ended up winning the scoring crown because he played in six fewer matches than Joo, at 37-31.

Put Joo alongside the returning Hungarian forward Martin Adam, and Ulsan could have the league's deadliest attacking weapons up front.

Ulsan Hyundai FC midfielder Lee Chung-yong takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan Hyundai FC midfielder Lee Chung-yong takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"I know expectations are higher from our fans and coaching staff compared with 2019, when I first came here," Joo said Wednesday. "I haven't even played a scrimmage, but I have high expectations for myself, too. I want people to say Ulsan are a better team with me in the lineup."

Joo said his focus will be on helping the team defend the league title, adding: "I haven't won a K League 1 title yet. More than anything individual, the goal this year is to win a championship."

Joo said he's particularly fueled by his repeated national team snubs. No K League player has scored more goals the past two years than Joo's 39, but for reasons never clearly explained, former national team head coach Paulo Bento never once selected Joo during his tenure.

Ulsan Hyundai FC forward Joo Min-kyu takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan Hyundai FC forward Joo Min-kyu takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"I learned so much from watching the World Cup last year, and it motivated me," Joo said. "I am sure there were reasons that I didn't get picked. And if I can address those shortcomings while playing with great teammates at Ulsan, I think good things will follow."

As for his partnership with Adam, who netted nine goals in only 14 matches, Joo said: "He's a big, powerful player. I think we can be a really good team if he and I can find ways to coexist."

"We have great midfielders and wingers here," Joo continued. "So it's really up to us two to get it done up front. There's a mix of pressure and anticipation."

Ulsan Hyundai FC forward Joo Min-kyu (R) takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan Hyundai FC forward Joo Min-kyu (R) takes part in a training session in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Jan. 11, 2023, in this photo provided by Ulsan Hyundai FC. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

Keywords
HOME TOP
Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!