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Korea Republic legend Lee Dong-gook brings curtains down on illustrious career

Seoul: The AFC Champions League’s record goal scorer Lee Dong-gook has announced he will retire at the end of the current season, bringing the curtain down on a stellar 23-year career.

The Korea Republic and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors legend released a statement on social media on Monday revealing he would hang up his boots at the conclusion of the campaign.

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“It’s been 23 years for me as a pro, however it felt like one lost year for me because I was not been able to fully enjoy this time as a player with many people due to COVID-19,” Lee said in a video posted on Youtube.

“For sure, this year has made me realise the value of fans more than ever. Putting an end to this season full of regret and gratitude, I have decided to leave the field on which I poured out everything in my entire life.

“Although I will not be called a soccer player any more, I made the decision to retire since I believe it is not the end, but the start of something new. For the past 23 years, I have been loved and supported by so many people both inside and outside the field in the name of soccer player Dong-gook Lee. I can take off my soccer shoes with more gratitude than regret.”

Lee is the record goal scorer in the AFC Champions League, scoring 37 times to top the charts by a goal from Dejan Damjanovic. He has also won the AFC Champions League title in 2016, having previously won the Asian Club Championship in 1998 with Pohang Steelers.

The 41-year-old became the oldest player to score in the K-League earlier this year and he is in line to add an eighth domestic title to his resume as Jeonbuk stand just one point from claiming the title ahead of Ulsan Hyundai with one round of matches remaining.

Lee made his professional debut for Pohang in the Asian Club Championship in 1998 and won the title later that year with the club when they defeated Dalian Wanda in a penalty shootout in the final in Hong Kong as he embarked on a highly successful career.

He made his debut for Korea Republic in 1998 and he was a member of the country’s squad at the FIFA World Cup Finals in France that year before going on to finish the 2000 AFC Asian Cup as the tournament’s leading scorer.

However, Lee was not included in the squad that represented the nation at the 2002 FIFA World Cup on home soil, when Guus Hiddink’s side reached the semi-finals, although he did feature again eight years later in South Africa.

At club level, Lee had spells at German side Werder Bremen and England’s Middlesbrough before returning to Korea, initially to join Seongnam Ilhwa in 2008.

He switched to Jeonbuk a year later, where he won the first of his seven K-League titles with the club as well as claiming the 2016 AFC Champions League title when Jeonbuk defeated Al Ain from the United Arab Emirates in the final.

“Thinking that the upcoming home game is the last match as number 20 with the fans I feel more nervous than ever, with the memory of my pro debut match and I already feel a lump in my throat,” said Lee.

“But I will do my very best so that my last chance with the fans will not be in vain. Once again, I express my sincere gratitude and appreciate for all of you who have been loving and supporting me. Thank you very much.”

Photos: AFP

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