20. Lee Jae-sung (Last Year: 12)
Jeonbuk Motors (KOR) / South Korea / Central Midfield
Words by Tim Lee
After breaking through on the Korean footballing scene in 2014 and 2015, expectations were very high for Jeonbuk’s dynamic midfielder, Lee Jae-sung. For those who have not yet been able to witness his awesome abilities, a primer: hard working for 90 minutes, unafraid in the tackle, tricky and nimble, incredible football IQ, including an eye for a devastating throughball… he’s the complete attacking playmaker.
Paired with Kim Bokyung in midfield, though more consistent on a season long basis, Lee’s game was a bit more refined this season. Sure, there were still the classic Jeonbuk one-touch passing of which Lee was so often the catalyst and an irreplaceable active member of, but a simpling of his role allowed the team as a whole to keep on pounding away at the opposition.
And it was highly successful – Lee remained the squad’s shining star as it went on to the claim the Asian Champions League trophy as well as embarking on a league record breaking undefeated streak. The 24 year old’s 17 assists (and at least a dozen more “hockey assists” – the assister of the assister) reveal how fundamental he was to Jeonbuk’s attacking clout.
Furthermore, with more national team appearances to boot (though not yet a first team regular in Stielike’s system) and rumours of Europe calling, the fantastic tale of Lee Jae-sung’s career is bound to take on another twist any time now.
Highlight of the Year – Helping Jeonbuk to win the Champions League
It was the trophy missing in Jeonbuk’s cabinet this decade after two consecutive league wins in 2014 and 2015 – and utterly dominant seasons at that. (Coincidence that when Jeonbuk got good in 2014, Lee made his Green Machine debut? I think not.) Conquering Asia was one of Choi Kanghee’s clear objectives, and Lee was fundamental to the club’s Asian glory, with 7 assists in the tournament.