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Ulsan lose indispensable Lee Keun-Ho to military service
In the prime of his career, Asia's newly crowned player of the year could be preparing for a dream move to Europe. Instead, Lee Keun-Ho is swapping his football studs for army boots.
Lee, 27, scored during Ulsan's defeat to Monterrey in the quarter-finals and his involvement in the intercontinental showpiece capped an outstanding season in which he helped his team sweep unbeaten to the AFC Champions League trophy.
The goal-scoring winger netted four times in his team's successful campaign as Ulsan became Asian champions for the first time, earning the tournament's Most Valued Player award in the process.
But instead of following ex-Manchester United star Park Ji-Sung and Park Chu-Young to Europe, Lee is embarking on a two-year stint of military service -- a loss Ulsan coach Kim Ho-Gon lamented this week.
"He is indispensable," the Asian coach of the year said when asked by AFP how much Lee would missed, adding: "He has the capability to score goals."
Lee will drop down to the K-League's second tier, turning out for military team Sangju Sangmu Phoenix during his term of service.
Kim dismissed suggestions that Ulsan's disappointing sixth place at the Club World Cup was because players' morale was dented by seeing Lee and team-mates Lee Jae-Seong and Lee Ho leave for national service.
"It didn't have any impact on their mood because they have a duty to the state," he said following Ulsan's loss to Hiroshima.
All able-bodied Korean men must perform national service and while the interruption sometimes proves career-ending for professionals, Kim insisted the players would be back.
"They will play in the military team and then they will come back to the top league teams," he said.
After receiving Asian football's highest individual honour at a ceremony last month, Lee Keun-Ho insisted he had no regrets about embarking on military service, despite having to put on hold his dream to play in Europe.
"I made a decision.... This is the best time for me to go to military service," he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. "It doesn't mean I quit playing."
South Korea's compulsory military service proved problematic for Park Chu-Young earlier this year, when he was dropped from the national team for delaying his call-up by obtaining a 10-year residency visa for Monaco.
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