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Lee's Fulham deal tainted by reports of sponsorship link

Lee's Fulham deal tainted by reports of sponsorship link

Fan enthusiasm over the expected signing of Ulsan winger Lee Chun-soo to Premier League team Fulham later this month has been dampened by Korean reports that the deal is linked to the English club's sponsorship arrangements.
Fulham contacted K-League club Ulsan last month about acquiring two-time World Cup veteran Lee on a yearlong loan starting July 1.
But reports from South Korean news agency Yonhap suggested the deal may have as much to do with sponsorship as the undoubted ability of the dead ball specialist.
"In March (South Korean firm) LG Electronics signed a three-year shirt sponsorship deal with Fulham which plainly states that the club must sign a Korean player," Yonhap quoted Kim Dong-guk, the head of Ulsan's representatives GSEN Inc., as saying late last month.
The deal may be as much about business as soccer, but it is easy to see the benefits for both parties.
The Premier League enjoys massive popularity in South Korea and the exploits of the Korean players in England are closely followed.
All games featuring Manchester United's Park Ji-sung, Tottenham's Lee Young-pyo, Reading's Seol Ki-hyeon and Lee Dong-guk of Middlesbrough are televised live in South Korea.
A player must appear on a fairly regular basis however. A non-selection or substitution of a Korean star can cause an immediate switch to a different live game.
Reading was virtually unheard of in Asia before signing Seol, but this summer the team will play in South Korea's prestigious Peace Cup, a tournament that could feature Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Almost half a million Koreans have Manchester United credit cards and the club will soon follow rivals Chelsea and Arsenal in opening a Korean-language Web site.
Fulham's deal with Lee will also help the London club attract fans closer to home.
The presence of Lee will be a potent weapon in New Malden _ the southwest London suburb just a few miles (kilometers) from Fulham and home to Europe's largest Korean community.
Deals linking players to sponsorship deals are unusual but not unknown in Asia.
Lee will follow in the footsteps of 2002 and 2006 World Cup teammate Ahn Jung-hwan, who left Busan I'cons in 2000 to head to Italian club Perugia.
Busan was owned by Korean car giant Daewoo and within weeks, the automobile manufacturer's name could be seen splashed across Perugia's shirts and a Daewoo Matiz was awarded to each game's Most Valuable Player.
In July 2002, Premier League rival Everton took on Chinese internationals Li Tie and Li Weifeng after a sponsorship deal with Chinese mobile phone company Kejian.
It remains to be seen how Fulham will fare in South Korea. The media response has so far been muted in comparison with the previous fanfares that greeted the movement of local heroes to England.
"The attitude of a number of fans about this kind of sponsorship is not positive, but most agree that Lee should play in a bigger league," said soccer writer Cho Keon-ho of popular Korean Web site MyDaily.
After seeing proposed deals with English clubs Southampton, Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic fall through in the past, the winger could be forgiven for not being too interested in the details of the deal.
"I have heard what has been said about Fulham and LG's sponsorship contract but it is irrelevant," Lee said last week. "I have talked to Fulham and they were interested in me even before this talk of a sponsorship deal."
The 25-year-old Lee featured in the 2002 World Cup when he helped South Korea reach the semifinals. He joined Spanish side Real Sociedad in 2002 but was soon loaned to Numancia and returned to Ulsan in 2005.
Lee has 70 caps for South Korea and scored the country's first goal in the 2006 World Cup on a free-kick in a 2-1 win against Togo.
South Korea coach Pim Verbeek also believes that Lee, the 2005 K-League MVP, deserves a chance to play in England.
The Dutchman was not only Guus Hiddink's assistant in Korea during the 2002 World Cup, he performed the same role at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven in 2003 when Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo joined.
"For PSV, there was no consideration of the commercial benefits," Verbeek told The Associated Press. "PSV is a club that only buys the best players they can. The club didn't have lots of money, Hiddink knew the players well and they had a good world cup - they were a bargain.
"Fulham saw Lee in February in London and against Uruguay in Seoul in March. Sometimes clubs have to be creative when buying players and if LG is involved then maybe they can make a deal that is good for everybody."


Updated : 2021-10-20 06:27 GMT+08:00