Playing in the domestic tournaments for his team Pohang Steelers, Lee exhibited some really good striking skills, where his solid performance got him in the eyes of the national team selectors. This paved way for Lee to join the South Korean U-19 team in 1998 and then the national team in the very same year.
Playing for his national U-19 team, in a major tournament such as AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup in 1998, he led his team to a victory. He was one of the key strikers since the very beginning and at a young age of 19, he proved himself to be a player with high possibilities of becoming an international star.
He also managed to secure a place in the South Korean team for the FIFA World Cup 1998 and at the 2000 AFC Asian Cup, where he became the top scorer by the end of the tournament with six goals to his credit.
Lee then was sent on loan to play in the local German league, for the club Werder Bremen, one of the strongest teams in the Germany’s Bundesliga. But sadly enough, his time there was plagued with injuries and hence, he did not get a chance to play too much and after spending six months in Germany, he continued his time with Pohang Steelers back in Korea.
In a shocking turn of events in 2002, he wasn’t selected for the final line-up for the FIFA World Cup that year. The reason mentioned by Guus Hiddink, the coach, was that Lee was a lazy man, who didn’t really care about the game and also said that he did not prepare at all for the biggest football tournament in the world. This, and plus his clumsy lifestyle, which involved alcohol, was also touted as the reason for his ouster from the national team.
In 2002, he decided to join the military for his mandatory service and there, he became a member of the team Gwangju Sangmu Bulsajo. He remained part of the team and played two seasons for them in the K-League Classic and once he returned from his military service in 2004, his game had further improved as he joined the Steelers back.
Although he was mostly recovered from the injuries he caught during his stint at Bundesliga, he wasn’t fully fit and during a match in April 2006, he suffered some bad knee injury which had him away from the game for the six months that followed.
Due to the injury, he also missed the chance to represent his national team at the World Cup. He regretted it very much as he was his coach’s one of the very first choices to be a part of the national team.
As he recovered by the beginning of 2007, the English Premier League club Middlesbrough came looking for some South Korean talent to be a part of their line-up and they found Lee to be the perfect choice for the same. Lee was then signed on an 18 months contract and made his debut in a match against Reading in February 2007.
His performance wasn’t up to the mark and he was only able to score his very first tournament goal in August 2007 against Northampton Town. It was not a great haul for Lee and when his contact finally ended after one and a half year, the club decided not to further extend it.
What further invited ample troubles for him in 2007 was a ban he faced for a year after he was accused of indulging in a late night drinking spree during the Asian Cup in November 2007. It was said to be one of the key reasons for the Korean team to end up at third spot in the final standing at the cup. However, during this time, Lee continued playing for his English Premier League team.
He made a switch to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in 2009 during an unexpected transfer, and as if that that was exactly the thing he needed, he played magnificently, leading his team to a tournament win at the 2009 K-League. In the 27 league matches that he ended up playing, he scored a total of 20 goals, and by the time he began the season 2012, he had already become the leading goal scorer in the history of K-League with record 117 goals.
He then went on to perform averagely at the following FIFA World Cups and by that time, the South Korean national football team went from one of the best Asian teams to a mediocre one. Lee was not selected for the final line-up for the 2014 team but as the team kept performing badly anyway, he was invited to play the 2018 World Cup qualifier, due to being one of the most experienced players available.
In 2015, Lee made an unexpected career shift after he appeared with his family in the highly popular South Korean variety show titled ‘The Return of Superman’. The show’s format enables the fathers to take care of their children in absence of their wives and with 5 kids to take care of Lee was the busiest dad on the show.
Being a football star, Lee Dong-gook has led more or less, a flamboyant lifestyle, which involved dating celebrities. After dating Lee Soo-jin, an ex Miss Korea, Lee married her in 2005. The couple had five children in total, two sets of twin daughters and a son.
Lee has been quite a controversial figure publically, and even in his personal life, he has admitted suffering from alcoholism and ‘too much ego’.