There was a hefty amount of expectation thrust upon the shoulders of Lee Chung-yong when he made the move to Bolton Wanderers a decade ago today.
His performances on the international stage for South Korea at the Beijing Olympics a year prior had caught the interest of several sides in Europe, with a move to England most likely.
With the lure of consistent first team football a major factor, LCY turned down the lure of Manchester City’s wealth & opted to move to Bolton. The fee was £2.2 million, modest in comparison to the millions spent by teams in the Prem these days. No doubt he would be worth five or ten times that in the current market.
Chungy’s move to England caused a huge amount of excitement in his homeland, as he was the first ever player to move directly to the Premier League from the K League. It was that big a deal, that Seoul made sure the move went through that Summer, despite being in the middle of a title challenge.
LCY’s debut was certainly a memorable one, though probably not for the reasons he wanted.
Much to his surprise, Chungy was on the bench for Wanderers’ opening game against Sunderland.
As Darren Bent fired The Black Cats into a first half lead, LCY was struggling to stay awake on the sidelines. He had only arrived in England a day & a half before.
Bleary eyed and jet lagged, Chungy was introduced to English football with twenty minutes to go.
With an expectant crowd inside the stadium and 5500 miles away, LCY tripped over the ball with his first touch and couldn’t prevent Bolton from losing the game. Safe to say, the only way was up.
A month later, Chungy adhered himself to the Wanderers faithful in a game against Birmingham City, showing composure to fire a late winner from close range.
As Chungy began to thrive on the pitch, he started to adjust to life off it. He enjoyed the mundane life he had found in the North West. Simple pleasures like collecting points on his Tesco Clubcard came as a welcome change from the hectic life he left behind in Korea, where he was constantly recognised wherever he went.
By the end of his debut season, Chungy had become a firm fan favourite, displaying the sort of flair and attacking intent that hadn’t been seen since the days of Jay-Jay Okocha.
Subsequently, he was named Wanderers’ player of the year.
The next season, Chungy became an integral part of one of the best midfields seen at The Reebok, alongsie Martin Petrov, Fabrice Muamba & Stuart Holden.
When it was going well, they were unplayable. Combining an attacking style with some fantastic results, it was no surprise to see Bolton knocking on the door of the European places.
12th March 2011 will forever be the day Chungy went from fan favourite to cult hero.
With a place at Wembley up for grabs, he headed in a brilliant last minute header to send the fans into sheer pandemonium & Wanderers into the semi-finals of the FA Cup (the less we say about the semi the better).
Unfortunately, a devastating leg break against Newport County ruled LCY out for the season, which was a major factor in Wanderers’ relegation.
In truth, Chungy wasn’t the same when he returned. I doubt we’ll see a player quite as good as Lee Chung-yong in those first two seasons again.
He did enjoy a bit of a renaissance under Neil Lennon, when he was moved into the middle from out wide. His performance against Wigan at home showed he was clearly a step above the rest of the squad.
After five and a half years, where he scored 20 goals in 195 games, Chungy returned the Premier League after Wanderers accepted a £1 million offer from Crystal Palace.
A return almost occured in January 2018. As Gary Madine was Cardiff bound, Wanderers needed that extra bit of quality in order to remain in the Championship.
A loan deal was agreed, but it heartbreakingly fell apart at the eleventh hour.
“I was sad because I’d already packed my bags and had my luggage ready just before leaving from London to Bolton”, Chungy revealed afterwards.
“When I heard that I wasn’t allowed to go to Bolton from Palace I was disappointed, I still love Bolton.”