Few people know it, but Lee Jung-taek’s season has been dramatic.
He’s been playing since Cheongju, Chungcheongbuk-do was in the semi-professional K3 League. By his own admission, up until last year, it was a natural progression for him to be in the K3. It was a career that “didn’t get much attention” from high school to college. He started playing soccer in Jeju Island and didn’t receive any offers from professional teams until he graduated from Sangji University. Just as Chungbuk Cheongju was preparing to go pro, he was injured. At the end of last year, he was informed that he would not be able to play with the team and was looking for another K3 League team.
But when a professional defender that Chungbuk Cheongju was trying to sign fell through, Lee was contacted to rejoin the team. Maybe he was lucky to become a professional player at all. He hadn’t expected to play professionally after the way his stay with the team went, and he didn’t stand out in winter training.
However, as a candidate at the beginning of the season, Lee quickly took over the starting role. By round 27, he had started 19 games and made five substitute appearances. Currently, the Chungbuk Cheongju backline is centered around Lee Hansam, who has a lot of professional experience, and Lee Jung-taek and Lee Min-hyung, who came up from the semi-professional ranks. Lee’s quick feet are invaluable in the Chungbuk Cheongju backline. He can cover a lot of ground, and his ability to catch up to and disrupt opposing attackers is important in the K League 2 environment, where counterattacks are particularly common. He also has the passing ability to contribute in build-up situations.
He worked hard to improve his physical abilities, but most importantly, he developed a professional sense of purpose. He took the advice of Jang Hyuk-jin, who has a lot of professional experience (see Part 2 of the interview), to get rid of his semi-professional mindset.
“Everyone has good and bad times. The player who makes fewer mistakes can play at his own pace. That was the mindset I needed to have to become a pro and establish myself. Mentally, it was the same thing. When you have a problem, if you get into your own head and overthink it, it’s hard to get out. It’s hard to get out of my head if I’m overthinking it. I followed that advice and my performance improved. Nowadays, even semi-pro players realize that they can do well in the pros if they change their mentality.”
Lee began to think like a professional, especially in Chungbuk Cheongju’s opening game, where he was not a starter, but drew the largest crowd to date, about 7,000 people. It was more than the club could handle. I realized that I had become a professional, and my desire to play grew.
The experience of defending against top-notch opposition strikers also meant a lot to Lee. “In the K League, there are outstanding domestic strikers from teams like Gimcheon, not to mention the destructive power of foreign strikers. When I blocked them, I felt that I wasn’t technically good enough, but if I stepped up, my team didn’t lose in the end. I’m in the process of proving every game that I can handle the challenges and turn them into results. I knew it was possible.”
Beyond his own professional success, Chungbuk Cheongju has been doing well, going unbeaten in 13 games and climbing from 12th to 7th in the standings. They are in the promotion playoffs from fifth place.
“It’s about analysis and communication. Every time we prepare for a game, we have a meeting where we analyze the opponent in detail, and it works, especially the set pieces. There was a set-piece that Peter scored recently that was customized for us. We also communicate when it comes to tactics. He asks the players what approaches they like, and the players have a say. Even in individual meetings, we can talk about our favorite games.”
While Choi and veteran Jang Hyuk-jin are careful not to set targets too early, the younger players are encouraged by their recent form. “I looked up the K League 2 unbeaten record. I saw that Gwangju went 19 games unbeaten in 2019. We have six games left, so it’s a lot, but our players are looking beyond that. I think we can reach the playoffs and beyond. We’re confident, and if we keep our goals down, our strikers will score more goals. I understand that the coach always talks about low goals because he wants us to be challengers. At the same time, young players need to be ambitious.”온라인바카라
In his first professional season, Lee’s goal is to establish himself as a young krigger, not just for this year but for the long term. “I came to the pros very hard. I want to do what Hyuk-jin did, which is to be recognized in the K League and play for a long time. Life in Cheongju is pretty much the same as it was in the semi-pro. However, at the cafe in front of my hostel, I sometimes recognize fans. I don’t show it, but I’m very happy inside.”
When asked to give advice to players looking up to the K-League from amateur or semi-pro teams, Lee Jung-taek emphasized once again that he has changed since his conversation with Jang Hyuk-jin. “I used to pride myself on how hard I worked in K3, but I don’t set the standard for ‘hard work,’ I always set the standard for professional players and try to follow them. I’m not saying that you should blindly increase your training time, but like I said, you have to think about how to play soccer efficiently. You have to use your head.”