Lee Seung-woo has been labelled the ‘South Korean Messi’ and the one of the best talents coming through Barcelona’s famous academy, La Masia, during his short career.

Yet, a ban from playing in official Barca matches, which lasted nearly three years, has hindered his development, returning when he turned 18 in January 2016. Since then, he has risen through the Catalan giants’ youth teams, starting with the Juvenil A before making his debut for the B team in March last year against Lledia Esportiu.

Now at the age of 19 and with the Barcelona second team back in the La Liga 2, is it time for the South Korean youth international to show just what the fuss is all about?

Banned from Barca

Lee joined La Masia as a budding 13-year-old, after Barca spotted him at the Danone Cup, a football tournament for players between the age of 10 and 12. In his first year at the club, the South Korean winger scored 39 goals in 29 games, beating a record that was set by none other than Lionel Messi.

However, disaster struck for Lee, as a FIFA took notice of his transfer and deemed it to be against the rules of Article 19, which focuses on the signing of under-18s. Among its regulations, the player’s parents must move to the country of the new club for reasons not related to football. Lee moved into Barca’s La Masia headquarters alone.

The ban meant he could not feature for Barcelona for any of their teams until he turned 18, meaning he had to wait two years before his next match in Barca colours.

The terms of his ‘suspension’ did allow him to play for his country, playing three matches at the Under-17 World Cup in 2015, before returning to his hometown Suwon to train with their local club before his return to Catalonia.

Rise to the top

Since returning, he has largely featured for the Under-19s, notably in the UEFA Youth League, netting once in a 4-1 win against Borussia Dortmund’s youngsters.

Despite only making one appearance for Barcelona B, he did see his release clause rise from €3m to €12m, meaning that despite his long absence from club football, he is still rated highly by the Barca chiefs.

While the release clause is there to deter potential suitors, Lee appears to be going nowhere but through the ranks at Barcelona.

Having waited so long to return, he will be expected to move up a notch again and feature predominately for the club’s second team.

Increased competition, following their promotion to the Segunda Division, will only speed up Lee’s progression, and should he get regular game-time and impress in the ‘B’ team next season, it will not be a surprise to see the ‘Korean Messi’ lining up against the original in the coming years.