Will Jae-sung Lee move from Mainz 05 to the Premier League?

Will Jae-sung Lee move from Mainz 05 to the Premier League?

MTalking to Jae-sung Lee when you don’t speak Korean is difficult. At least for journalists who want to know about his future plans through a conversation. The pro of FSV Mainz 05 speaks German, but not so well that the confusion surrounding the blog entry he wrote during the winter break could be resolved using this language. In it he probably wrote that it was time for something new, that he felt the desire for change in order to grow again in a different environment.

“Probably” because those responsible for 05 spoke of a misunderstanding after their own talks with Lee at the beginning of the year. The text translated into English is a translation error. “Lost in translation happens sometimes,” joked Bo Svensson: “I notice that sometimes when I watch American films with German subtitles.”

Anything but “lost”, Lee is currently moving through the Bundesliga, he has written remarkable statistics in the past few weeks. The offensive man has scored five goals since the last game in the first half of the season Borussia Dortmund, two more he prepared. Sometimes early, against BVB in the second minute, sometimes very early – he only needed 47 seconds to win the second half of the season over VfL Bochum. In all four games in which he scored this calendar year, he scored 1-0.

Exceptional age of entry

“I can’t imagine Mainz 05 without Jae-sung Lee at the moment,” says Bo Svensson, and the coach isn’t just referring to the South Korean’s goal threat. Like Leandro Barreiro in his somewhat more defensive role in eighth position, Lee perfectly reproduces the style of play Svensson demands: intensive running, aggressive pressing, uncompromising duel, quick switching after winning the ball. And it is part of the fact that he can often be found deep in his own half to prevent opposing attacks.

Not only are Lee’s achievements exceptional, but his age at entry into the Bundesliga is also exceptional. As a 30-year-old he is just completing his second season in the German elite class, before that he spent three years in the second division at Holstein Kiel, his first stop outside of his home country.

The Mainz team brought him to Bruchweg on a free transfer in the summer of 2021, so they couldn’t do much wrong with his signing – even if he started with a damaged ankle, a souvenir from a game with the South Korean national team, and started team training late.

Back then, it took him two months to become a regular, injuries slowed him down in the second half of the season, but he still managed to score four goals and three assists; it was a more than satisfying debut year. In the current season, however, there was a problem. Lee no longer seemed as lively, as biting, as tireless as the people from Mainz had got to know him.

Paralyzing thoughts of the World Cup

Although the competition for his positions was no stronger than before – Jonathan Burkardt was often absent, the newcomers were still looking for their role (Aymen Barkok) or were simply disappointing (Angelo Fulgini) – he was unable to establish himself in the top eleven before the season was suspended .

The answer to the question about the reasons came almost automatically when he was preparing for the rest of the round: it was the thoughts of the World Cup that had paralyzed him. “The World Cup was the highlight of his career,” says Svensson. “Playing there for his country kept him very busy and took a lot of mental strength. Now we see the Jae-sung we know from last season.”

Jae-sung Lee and South Korea only lost to Brazil in the round of 16.  The final score is 1:4.

Jae-sung Lee and South Korea only lost to Brazil in the round of 16. The final score is 1:4.

Image: picture alliance / Action Plus

“The World Cup has strengthened us mentally,” says Lee himself about the success of having reached the round of 16 with South Korea. “Now I can play more relaxed.” And celebrate with the fans, some of whom even fly in from home to see him live, he says. The 1-0 man experienced his temporary high point in the 05 jersey in the Mainz “Fastnachtsspiel” against FC Augsburg, when he repeatedly duped his opponents, also scored the goal to make it 3-1 and then with a colorful hat on his head stood in the block and celebrated the “Humba”.

“I feel good in the Bundesliga, and I feel good in Mainz,” says the second-best scorer in Rheinhessen after Karim Onisiwo with seven successful goals and three assists. At the same time, there is the dream of the island: “Of course the Premier League is also attractive, my idol Ji-sung Park used to play for Manchester United.”

What is that for the 05ers, who this Saturday (3.30 p.m. in FAZ live ticker for the Bundesliga and Sky) at Hertha BSC in Berlin means whether they will be able to prematurely extend the contract that expires next summer or whether they might let him go after this season to earn a few million euros is an open question. No press round with Lee that involved an interpreter brought any clarity to this either.

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