“In the next game, I’ll grow even more, I’m confident.”
Lee Soon-min, 29, a midfielder for Gwangju FC in the K League 1, continues to amaze fans with his growth.
After joining Gwangju in 2017, Lee struggled to break into the first team, but four years later, he was recalled for the 2021 season. He started playing in the K League as a midfielder instead of his usual position of fullback.
At Yeungnam University, Lee was, in his own words, “a defender whose weakness was defense.”
Faced with a long and tough competition for a starting spot, Lee focused on improving his fundamentals and realized that he had “multi-skills.
“When I came to the pros, I realized that I could only be competitive if I could play defense, which is my main job,” he says. “By working hard to make sure I didn’t lose sight of the ‘basics,’ I was able to play other positions flexibly.
In the 2022 season, when he was fully established as a starting midfielder, he played a key role in Gwangju’s promotion within a year after being relegated to the K League 2 (second division).
As vice-captain, he led by example and showed an improved performance.
He scored two goals with mid-range shots. Although he is a central midfielder, he also improved his movement, moving forward whenever he could and threatening the opposing defense.
At the K League Awards ceremony at the end of the year, he surprised fans who didn’t know much about him by grabbing a microphone and performing a hip-hop song.
Lee Soon-min also performs as a rapper under the name ‘WERO’.
This season, Lee Soon-min has continued to amaze. He is at the center of Gwangju’s promotion surge in the K League 1.
He has played in all 19 matches, leading Gwangju’s midfield.
He even scored the game-winning goal in the 19th minute of the first leg against Jeonbuk Hyundai at his home stadium, Gwangju Football Stadium.
A pass from Doo Hyun-seok was finished by Lee Soon-min with an exquisite back header in the box that rattled the net, and Gwangju added a wedge goal from Lee Kun-hee in second-half stoppage time for a 2-0 victory.
Lee Soon-min said, “I think I’m a better player every year compared to last season and I’m proud of it. I think I grew more in this match than in the last one,” Lee said, adding, “I will grow even more in the next match. I can be confident.”
The catalyst for growth is the “stress” that coach Lee Jeong-hyo provides.
Even the day after a victory, the Gwangju players cannot escape his sharp criticisms.
Even in a winning game, there may be situations where the opponent has scoring chances or the organization has collapsed, and he catches all of them and reveals the ‘chibu’.
Lee laughed that Lee Jung-hyo would use his vocal cords more than he would as a rapper.
“I realize the saying, ‘Baseball is like a pitcher, and soccer is like a manager,'” Lee said. I feel how much a leader can grow a team,” he said. “It’s stressful, but I’m grateful to be able to play soccer under him. I’m learning every time I play.”
Gwangju is flying high in fifth place (28 points). They’ve hit the ground running with four wins and two draws in their last six games.
The small 10,000-seat Gwangju Football Stadium is packed with home fans wearing yellow jerseys and cheering alongside the players. 안전놀이터
“It’s a privilege as a player to play in this atmosphere,” Lee said, “and I’m grateful that it can be tough.”
Gwangju will be truly ‘tested’ in June and July.
It will face Jeonbuk once again in the quarterfinals of the Korea Football Association FA Cup on Aug. 28, away from home. After that, they’ll face first-place Ulsan Hyundai in the league, 11th-place Gangwon FC, who just changed coaches, and fourth-place Jeju United.
“After the two-game series against Jeonbuk, we have to face Ulsan at home. “I think we took a good first step today before playing against strong teams,” said Lee. “The next game is away, but it would be good to create our own football.