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Klinsmann hints at increased role for young midfielder

March 24, 2023 - 09:28 By Yonhap
Jurgen Klinsmann (right), head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, watches his midfielder Lee Kang-in (left) chat with technical adviser Cha Du-ri before a training session at the National Football Center in Paju, 30 kilometers northwest of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Early in his tenure as head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, Jurgen Klinsmann has already displayed one major difference from his predecessor, Paulo Bento.

Klinsmann, who was appointed on Feb. 27 and will make his South Korea coaching debut Friday night against Colombia, has not been shy about discussing merits of individual players.

In Thursday's prematch press conference, Klinsmann touched upon an immensely popular player whose name Bento was loath to even mention publicly: RCD Mallorca midfielder Lee Kang-in.

"He's a very, very talented player," Klinsmann said. "When you coach a player with this talent, you get excited. Hopefully, I can teach him or give him many messages that he takes in and will grow and will mature."

Klinsmann also said he thought highly of Lee's character.

"For every player that leaves his home country to play abroad, it's a very difficult challenge," Klinsmann said. "But it seems like he does it with a smile on his face."

Despite Lee's strong performances in the Spanish league during Bento's four-year tenure, the Portuguese coach hardly called him up. On the rare occasions that he did, Bento kept Lee glued to the bench and even got booed for doing so in two friendly matches last September.

Bento evaded questions about his usage of Lee, saying he made all roster decisions based on tactics and strategies, and the team always came before any individual player.

To the surprise of many, Bento still selected Lee for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar later in 2022 and brought him off the bench to great effects. Using his creativity and vision almost unparalleled on the team, Lee provided immediate offensive spark, most memorably setting up a goal against Ghana in a 3-2 loss during the group stage.

And it's not difficult to imagine Lee assuming a more prominent role under Klinsmann, a legendary striker in his playing days who will likely opt for more offensive-minded schemes than Bento.

"He will get his playing time with us, definitely," Klinsmann said. "I watch every game that he plays with his club team. Hopefully, he will be one of the players that can make his mark in the future for Korea."

Lee has collected 10 international caps so far. He made his debut in September 2019. But after playing against Japan in March 2021 for his sixth match, Lee didn't play for the country again until the World Cup in November 2022. (Yonhap)