WANJU, South Korea, Nov. 3 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korean pro football’s all-time leading scorer said Thursday he plans to keep playing next season, even as he approaches his 40s.
Lee Dong-gook, who plays for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the K League Classic, said he is considering playing next season. The 38-year-old striker is a living legend in the country’s top football league, having scored 200 goals in 467 K League matches.
“I’m confident that I can play more,” Lee said during a media event at Jeonbuk’s clubhouse in Wanju County, North Jeolla Province. “I want to continue my playing career.”
After leading Jeonbuk to their fifth K League title Sunday, Lee said he could retire and added he would talk about his next move after the 2017 season is over.
With two matches remaining in the season, Lee has scored eight times and collected five assists in 28 matches. Since he joined Jeonbuk in 2009, he has netted at least 12 goals every year.
The former Middlesbrough targetman was not included on the South Korean national football team roster for its upcoming friendly matches with Colombia and Serbia. He played in South Korea’s last two matches in the final Asian World Cup qualifying round against Iran and Uzbekistan and helped the Taeguk Warriors qualify for the top FIFA tournament in 2018.
The veteran, who has 33 goals in 105 matches for South Korea, said he wasn’t disappointed with the national team exclusion.
“My role was to help South Korea qualify for the World Cup,” he said. “I was surprised that my exclusion made the news. That actually made me feel that South Korean football still needs me.”
Former national team head coach Uli Stielike recently told a South Korean television station that he thinks it won’t help South Korean football if Lee continues to play internationally, because it would mean there isn’t enough young talent to take his spot.
Lee, who played only twice under Stielike, said he still wants to compete for a spot on the national team.
“I felt a little sad that (Stielike) didn’t mention how much I’ve worked to earn this status,” he said. “I think playing for the country is the best gift for an athlete. Once I retire from football, that means I’m retiring from everything. I want to push myself and show my best skills on the pitch.”
Lee, a four-time K League MVP, said that among the goals he’s scored in the league, his 200th goal against Jeju United last Sunday will be remembered the most.
“It felt like I became a hero in a drama,” he said. “It was also the first time I high-fived head coach Choi Kang-hee after scoring a goal.”