Who is Barcelona's wonderkid Lee Seung-woo?
Barcelona have in recent times, adopted a mixed approach towards transfers for their first team. After a number of busy transfer windows where the team was restructured for post-Pep Guardiola times, Barcelona has had to start relying on the youths from the famed La Masia academy in recent times, as the transfers of Luis Suarez and Neymar had taken out a significant of chunk of their transfer budget.
La Masia, famous for producing world-renowned talents such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and the magician Lionel Messi among others, was responsible for the development of players such as Munir El Haddadi and Rafinha who have stepped up to the first team last season.
Lee Seung-Woo is a young South Korean who has recently been making waves and turning heads of those who matter at La Masia. The midfielder who also deputises as a forward, is a regular for Barcelona’s Juvenil A team, and also trains with the senior team on the regular basis.
Lee shot to fame when he emerged as the top scorer in the Danone Nations Cup, a prestigious tournament for budding footballers around the world. Lee rapidly progressed through the youth ranks at La Masia and won the ‘MVP’ award at many tournaments, which contributed to his meteoric rise.
However, a significant impediment to his progress occurred in the form of a ban, incurred by Barcelona on account of infringement of the FIFA youth eligibility rules by Barcelona. This event led to the bano to Lee and 8 other academy players who were not permitted to play any official matches till they turned 18 years of age. Barcelona were also incurred a transfer ban for this episode, when the club was banned from signing any players for 1 year, or 2 transfer windows.
Lee has also been a regular fixture in the youth teams of South Korea over the years. In the 2014 AFC U16 championship, Lee helped the South Koreans to a runners-up finish, and was one of the standout performers in the tournament. His brace against Japan in the semi-finals was the highlight of his tournament personally, as he showcased his blazing speed and mazy dribbling abilities, which has him earmarked for great things in the future.
In the U17 World Cup of 2015, Lee ran rings around the Brazilian team, and led the South Koreans to a memorable victory. With all the qualities of a top attacker, it is no wonder Barcelona fans are excited about the prospect of seeing him turn out for the senior team alongside the likes of Messi, Neymar and Suarez, very soon.
So was a transfer ban for one full season worth it for Barcelona? A lot of fans and pundits have been asking what is so special about this 18-year-old that compelled Barcelona to bend the rules in order to land him. For the answer, one must take a closer look at the Danone Nations Cup, the ultimate competition for schoolchildren hoping to make a mark in the footballing world, the tournament is held annually.
Millions of children between the ages of 10-12 compete for the once in a lifetime chance to represent their nation in the finals. Lee took part in the 2010 edition of the competition in South Africa, Lee mesmerized onlookers with his dazzling skills, close control, and bursts of pace. His exploits won him the golden boot, and his 12 goals in the tournament had some memorable strikes that caught the eye of scouts from La Masia.
Moving to Barcelona’s academy, Lee took no time to settle into his new surroundings and establish himself at a cut above his peers. He scored 38 goals and provided 18 assists in his first season for Barcelona’s infantile A squad, and even outdid the legendary Lionel Messi who had managed 38 in 30 games. With such a prolific strike rate, comparisons between the two would happen almost naturally, and his exploits earned Lee the title of ‘Korean Messi’.
However, Barcelona had broken the rules in acquiring Lee and as a result, they were handed a one-year transfer ban and Lee himself was banned for playing for the academy team for a year. But prodigious talent such as his cannot be kept suppressed, and he was soon showcasing his talent on the international stage, at the 2014 Asian U16 championships.
His pace and technique were already a matter of significant hype, but what really stood out then was his confidence. He scored some goals which oozed class, and would have made even Lionel Messi feel good about the Barcelona prodigy. Despite losing to North Korea in the finals, Lee emerged the top scorer, like in the Danone Nations Cup four years ago, and was adjudged the MVP of the tournament. With such qualities and a very promising beginning, it is evident why Barcelona went that extra mile to land him at any cost.