The Jeonbuk Hyundai game plan is straightforward: The Motors never stop running and they dominate the opposition with a unique blend of attacking football. The local media has dubbed it Dakgong – or ‘shut up and attack’ – as Jeonbuk have established themselves as a powerhouse of Korean football in recent years.
However, it is almost impossible to explain their success without the re-emergence of a veteran striker, who arrived at the Jeonju outfit seven years ago. At the start of the 2009 season, few had expected slumping Lee Donggook would rediscover his top form, but the Lion King has become a fixture of this formidable attack ever since.
In fact, Lee has won almost everything at club level, scoring a record 192 goals over the past 19 seasons. The 37-year-old was named the rookie of the year in his debut K-League season in 1998 before winning the most valuable player and the top scorer awards when Jeonbuk claimed their first league title in 2009.
“It’s true that I’m surprised by the records I’ve achieved when I look back because I didn’t realise what I’d won in my career so far,” Lee said at a press conference at Jeonbuk’s training ground last week. “I have no regrets in the past and if you ask me what I’m going to do next, I’ve got nothing to say. Obviously, my team’s goal always comes first. Maybe I could play in the next World Cup [in Russia], or I could hang up my boots before that. It’s always good to aim as high as possible.”
Heartbreak in Jeonju
Although he also claimed the assist title two years later in 2011, that season remains a bitter memory for Lee, as Jeonbuk finished runners-up in the AFC Champions League after losing on penalties in the final at home against Al Sadd of Qatar.
“I remember how wildly they celebrated in front of our home crowd and how bad I felt about it,” recalled Lee, who wore the captain’s armband on that fateful night. “That’s why I told my lads not to act like that when we won the Champions League away from home [in the final second leg away to Al Ain of United Arab Emirates]. Now that we’ve won the trophy, it’s time to forget about the past and move on.”
It took five years for Jeonbuk to overcome that bitter defeat, but they had to deal with another blow just before the continental final. In the final round of the K-League season on 6 November, they lost 1-0 at home to FC Seoul and had to endure another harsh moment, as the visitors leapfrogged them into first place and snatched the trophy on the final matchday.
“We didn’t talk too much about it. We could have lifted the trophy, but instead let it slip away,” Lee said. “But we all know that Jeonbuk Hyundai are champions because we’ve played good football throughout the season, and we’re the best team. We should be proud of ourselves.”
As proud representatives of Asia, Jeonbuk are returning to Japan to take part in their second FIFA Club World Cup, having finished fifth at their first attempt ten years ago. Although Lee has participated twice at the FIFA World Cup™, in 1998 and 2010, this is the first time for the seasoned veteran.
“We’re looking forward to taking on the strongest clubs in the world, but the first match is always important and we’re focused on our opener against Club America,” Lee said of the tasks ahead. “I know they are a very tough side and different from who we’ve faced so far, but if we manage to beat the Mexicans, we’ll be up against Real Madrid. Everybody here wants that and I also want to score against them to round off this season.”