Martin Rennie didn't think it took that long to get the deal done. Tell that to those of us who have been sitting on egg shells for the past week. Today, finally, the Vancouver Whitecaps announced the signing of Lee Young-pyo in a press conference at BC Place in downtown Vancouver.
Lee is a 34-year-old fullback, formerly of Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven, and the Korean national team. He has also been analyzed to death ever since the story broke last week that his joining the Whitecaps was imminent. There's not much to say about him that hasn't already been said: he's a natural right-footer who's best known as a left back but has played a great deal on the right, he's a renowned crosser of the ball, as well as somebody who scores high marks for character and leadership.
Despite making almost a million euros last year (and laughing when asked about it), Lee will not be a designated player.
The Whitecaps' brain trust hit on all of these points as they introduced Lee in a room absolutely packed with Korean media. It was the busiest Whitecaps' press day I can remember since the team signed Jay DeMerit a year ago, and quite a bit of it was Korean press (not just Korean-Canadian; Korean-Korean). It's certainly getting the Whitecaps exposure outside the usual spaces, although Lee himself said that the size of Vancouver's Korean community wasn't a factor in his joining the Whitecaps (as he pointed out, plenty of soccer cities have larger Korean communities than we).
What did Lee say? Nothing of great interest; he's clearly an old hand at giving non-answers to the media. Not that the press conference was entirely uninteresting.
First impressions of Lee? One can never tell that much from a big introductory press conference where the guy's being asked questions by dozens of strangers through an interpreter. I was surprised that Lee needed an interpreter at all after spending three seasons with Tottenham: he speaks competent if broken English and cracked a fair joke about the rain in his opening remarks, but he still leaned on his English-accented translator. By comparison Eric Hassli spoke exclusively in French when he came to Vancouver but, by the end of the season, his English was nearly conversational.
To be frank, I'm not entirely sure that Lee quite knows what he's getting into. Whenever Lee was asked questions about North American soccer or MLS he steered straight for generalities. When he was asked about the quality of play in MLS, Lee talked about playing the American national team with South Korea and beyond that burst into tracts about how the game is growing here and how he's sure within five years yadda yadda etcetera etcetera.
Lee's a guy who's flown the world chasing the money and opportunities. Now, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that: nobody's ever put down Lee's effort or preparation and his skill level still seems high. But Major League Soccer is a more physical league than many, and while Lee went to pains to emphasize his fitness and health, some high-quality international players have struggled with this league. I'll say that he looked fit and trim, for what's that worth. If Lee doesn't know what he's in for, let's hope the coaching staff can prepare him.
A few other notes:
Edit, 06:30 December 8: I've been informed that Tom Soehn was in the background of the press conference and I just didn't see him. I looked for him to see if he was doing interviews, didn't see him, and got on with my life; the potential significance of this occurred only after I'd left. Apparently he was there so there was no significance.
Tom Soehn was entirely absent from this press conference. That wasn't usual for him when Teitur Thordarson was head coach. When the Whitecaps signed Jay DeMerit, Soehn was at the press conference. When the Whitecaps signed Eric Hassli, Soehn was at the press conference. Bob Lenarduzzi was there today, Martin Rennie was there, Paul Barber was there (though he hung around in the background rather than speak), but no Tom Soehn.
I'm not saying "read anything into this". Maybe he's taken an extra week holiday to be with the family. Maybe he's just sick of jackals like me, and I couldn't blame him. I'm just saying, out of the key people in the Whitecaps on-field organization there was one notable man missing.
- Bob Lenarduzzi said specifically that Lee is prized for his versatility but was signed to play right back. Martin Rennie said specifically that he wants Alain Rochat at left back and Lee on the right. Release your breath.
- Apparently, the "delay" in formalizing this open secret was because of how long it took to get Lee into the country. Did early leaks from his agency in Korea just make the signing seem more protracted than it was? I really have no way of knowing; I don't think anybody not on the inside of the negotiations could answer that.
- There are no trialists coming in the near future as the Whitecaps are concentrating on landing big fish, but Martin Rennie has said that the team is close to additional signings. One, "maybe two of them" have played with their national teams. "With recruitment you never know; you sometimes think you're close and it takes longer than you think", but Rennie expects we'll have new signings in the next few weeks.