The year 2023 has been a memorable one for Soonmin Lee, who has accomplished so much and has so much more in store. Instead of looking at the road he’s been on, he’s looking at ‘higher ground’. He’s ready to go up, up, up, up, and up, just like his rap name. The highlight of his career is yet to come.
On the 2nd of this month, the Hana OneQ K League 1 2023 38R Gwangju FC-Pohang Steelers match took place at the Gwangju Football Stadium in Gwangju, South Korea. The result was a 0-0 draw. With the win, Gwangju secured third place and an elite ticket to the 2024-2025 AFC Champions League. Lee Soon-min started the game again and played a revolutionary role in helping Gwangju achieve their goal.
We caught up with Lee in the post-match mixer to find out what he’s thinking now that he’s done playing soccer for 2023. What’s going through his mind right now? After such a dreamy 2023, it’s easy to imagine a lot of thoughts running through his head, but he has a clear direction for himself.
“I met a good team, I met good managers and coaches, I met good teammates. It was a year where I personally gained a lot, but I also felt sorry for myself. Because we all worked so hard together. So I feel like I need to be more responsible. I feel like I need to do better. The better I do, the more chances there will be other players like me. I feel some weight.”레모나토토 도메인
The year 2023 was a banner year for Lee, as he finished third in the Hana One Q K League 2023 with promoted Gwangju, earning him an elite ticket to the 2024-2025 AFC Champions League. Lee was also honored with a call-up to the South Korean men’s national soccer team. Making the national team is proof that Lee has reached the highest level of his generation.
“When we won the K League 2 last year, I received an award at the ceremony. I thought, ‘I wonder if there will be another year as good as this one,’ and I spent the end of the year with that mindset. But then this year came and more good things happened. I got more attention. Of course, it could be the last. But I’m going to be a little greedy. I didn’t expect so many good things to happen this year, and there’s nothing to say there won’t be more in the future.”
Lee and Gwangju are breaking barriers. They know they can break through anything. It’s something that has become ingrained in both Lee and Gwangju.
“I was pushing the envelope without realizing it, but when I saw the progress from last year to this year, I thought, ‘This is what happens when we work together as a team. If you work responsibly and sincerely with what you are given every day, more good things can happen. My heart is full of hope. A lot of people say I’m in my prime. I think the best is yet to come.”
The presence of Gwangju coach Lee Jung-hyo had a huge impact on not only Lee Sun-min, but all the players. Most importantly, Lee learned that it was okay to dream.
“He taught us a lot tactically. But the biggest thing he taught us was to dream big. In fact, we often think about whether we can dream like that. But listening to his stories and seeing him try to fulfill his words, we naturally thought, ‘If he can do it, I can do it too. That’s the biggest harvest for us. You can dream big. You can dream big in your career, you can dream in your life outside of your career, you can dream without limits, you can dream and try. It can happen. I saw those possibilities.”
Lee Soon-min has opened a new chapter in her story by wearing the Taeguk mark. The prospect of representing her country is exciting for her, and it makes her want more.
“It’s fun every time I go. It’s new. I want to do better. People’s greed never ends. If I was selected once, I would think, ‘I want to go,’ but now that I’ve been selected once, I want to go twice, three times, and again. I don’t want to get caught up in that greed, but I’m going to use it as a motivator and a stimulus. I’ll use it as something to strive for. I also want to start for the national team. But I have to build up my trust, and I can’t just ask for a starting spot. So I’m trying to earn that trust in training. Maybe one day the opportunity will come.”
“(Cho) Kyu Sung-yi is working really hard. When he was first picked, he wasn’t a starter, but he kept working hard and now he’s an indispensable player for the Korean national team. So I’m trying to move forward with hope. I believe good things will happen.”
“First of all, I have one more year left on my contract with Gwangju. So the first thing is to talk to Gwangju. If there is a situation where I can help the club, then something else might happen. I didn’t really think about it because I was in the middle of the season. Now that the season is over, I’m starting to think about it. The first thing is to communicate with the club. I want to hear what they think, and of course I have big ambitions. I don’t want to hesitate or avoid opportunities when they come my way. I’ll hit it even if it’s broken. Of course, the opportunity has to come to me (laughs).”