South Korean Messi Looks To Reignite Career After Valencia Flop

In a surprising development, which, perhaps understandably given the past few days of transfer market madness, went under the radar, RCD Mallorca has signed attacking midfielder Lee Kang-in on a free transfer from Valencia. 

Lee has been widely seen as one of the top prospects to come through the Valencia academy in years, having joined the Spanish side in 2011 at the age of 10. Now 20 years old and with six caps for South Korea to his name, Valencia announced in a brief statement this week that the club had rescinded Lee's contract. This led to the player's signing on a free transfer with Mallorca, promoted back to LaLiga after a second-place finish last season in the second division. 

On the surface the move looks to be the latest in a long line of baffling transfer decisions by the Valencia hierarchy, which allowed several players to leave on cut-price deals last season and sold key midfielders Francis Coquelin and long-serving club captain Dani Parejo to rival Villarreal for a combined fee of just over $10 million. Lee was named the Asian Young Footballer of the Year in 2019, the same year he earned the Golden Ball at the U-20 World Cup.

“My family and I left home and came to Spain in 2011 to pursue my dream of being a professional football player. ... Valencia CF is the team that opened the door to that dream for me and supported me. That’s been the precious value that I cannot forget even at this moment as I leave this team. With this team, I grew not only as a player but as a human being," Lee said on his departure in an Instagram post.

He bids farewell to the Mestalla having appeared 62 times for Valencia and scoring three goals. He also contributed four assists, all of which came last season over his 24 LaLiga appearances. He makes the move to Mallorca, less than one hour away by plane, on a contract until 2025. Lee is the latest addition in what has been a strong transfer window for the island side, including the addition of American forward Matthew Hoppe

Mallorca made Amath Ndiaye's loan move from Getafe permanent after the Senegal international scored nine goals last season, while also signing veteran forward Ángel Rodríguez from the Madrid-based side. The 34-year-old has scored 126 goals in 442 career appearances, most of which have come in LaLiga and La Segunda. Mallorca further bolstered coach Luis García's forward options with the loan signing of Fer Niño from Villarreal. The 20-year-old scored a game-winning goal on his debut as Mallorca defeated Alaves 1-0.

Niño became the second arrival from Villareal after Mallorca signed 33-year-old fullback Jaume Costa, a veteran of nearly 200 LaLiga games, in July. Also arriving to shore up the defense on the opposite side is Pablo Maffeo, 23, from Stuttgart.  

The club has strengthened in midfield as well with the loan arrival of Rodrigo Battaglia from Sporting CP. The 30-year-old Argentine spent last season on loan with Deportivo Alavés, making 32 appearances in LaLiga and scoring one goal. Takefusa Kubo, another exciting youngster, has returned to Mallorca from Real Madrid for his second loan spell on the island. The Japanese international, 20, was a rare bright spot in a difficult and ill-fated 2019-20 campaign for Mallorca, scoring four goals and chipping in with five assists. 

Mallorca's impressive summer has continued as the club finds itself in sixth place, earning a draw and two victories from its opening three games. Last time around, the side did not reach two wins until early October. While Lee Kang-in has yet to play for his new club, Mallorca fans have every reason to be excited after adding such a highly-rated youngster to an already-improved squad. 

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