Southgate hails bargain signing Dong Gook Lee

February 1, 2007

Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate believes the knee injury which kept new signing Dong Gook Lee out of the World Cup finals has saved his club millions.

The 27-year-old was unveiled on Teesside yesterday after agreeing an 18-month contract with an option to extend the deal.

His move from Pohang Steelers came after an impressive trial and Southgate admits his absence from South Korea's World Cup squad with a cruciate ligament injury could have worked in Boro's favour.

He said: 'That is possibly to our advantage because, had he played, lots of people might have been alerted to him.

'We have already seen that Seol (Ki-Hyeon) at Wolves and now at Reading and Park (Ji-Sung) at Manchester United have proved they can play in the Premier League.

'Dong Gook is a bigger star than either of those, without being disrespectful to them, and we are very much hoping he adapts as quickly as they have to English football.'

Lee, who endured a difficult spell on loan at German club Werder Bremen earlier in his career, took advice from United midfielder Park before making his decision to come to England.

However, he is confident the Korean contingent in the Barclays Premiership can grow.

He said: 'If they have the confidence in themselves and are not afraid of a challenge, players can definitely come and make it in Europe.'

Lee's arrival was greeted by a media throng, swelled by a sizeable contingent from the Far East, illustrating just how big a name he is at home.

Southgate said: 'He is here for football reasons. We have all been taken by surprise at the interest, but you have to remember what a big star Dong Gook is in Korea.

'It will be interesting to watch the following that comes out to watch Middlesbrough play now.'

Lee will hope for a place in the squad for Saturday's league clash with Arsenal at the Riverside Stadium, although Southgate is in no rush to introduce him until he is ready for the challenge.

He said: 'The good thing is the team is having a good run and we are not bringing him in to produce the goods in the next week or fortnight.

'Hopefully, that may happen, but we know from what we have seen that he is going to be a good addition for us.'

The newcomer, nicknamed `The Lion King' because of his aggressive style, will have to displace either Mark Viduka or Aiyegbeni Yakubu if he is to earn a regular starting berth, but that is not a prospect that fazes him.

Lee said: 'They are both good players and they have proved it on the pitch. But, when the chance comes along for me, I will do my best to prove myself as well.

'I will play my part for the club.'