Tadanari Lee is a Japanese striker who was born in Nishitokyo, Tokyo on December 19th 1985. Lee represented South Korea at youth level, qualifying through his parents, although he was never fully accepted among his teammates, due to his Japanese background. He started his club career with FC Tokyo, but failed to make a first team appearance before joining Kashiwa Reysol in 2005. Lee made his Reysol debut the same year, but didn't become a regular at the club until after they were relegated to J League Division 2. He helped the club bounce back and win promotion in 2006, with 8 goals from 31 matches. Lee found the step up in quality the following season no issue whatsoever, netting a respectable 10 from 30. The goals dried up over the next few years, with Lee suffering a dip in form. He represented Japan at the 2008 Olympics.
Lee signed for Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2009. A year later he reignited his career, lighting up the J League with a string of exciting performances. Lee possesses great technique and dribbling skills, but is also physically strong and decent in the air. He caught the eye of Japan's national team manager Alberto Zaccheroni, after scoring 11 goals from 31 games in 2010. Lee made his international debut on January 9th 2011 against Jordan. He was part of Zaccheroni's 2011 Asia Cup squad, and wrote himself into Japanese folklore on 29th January 2011, by scoring the winning goal in extra time in the final against Australia with a beautiful volley. Lee continued to perform well domestically too, with 15 goals for Sanfrecce in 2011.
In January 2012 Lee agreed a deal to sign for Southampton. Saints boss Nigel Adkins had said the player had caught his eye at the Asia Cup the previous year. He had highlighted Lee's goal against Australia to the rest of the squad as an example of great technique. According to FIFA's own website, the player agreed to sign a three and a half year deal, with a weekly wage of approximately £15,000, rising to £23,000 per week if Saints gain promotion. On 11th January 2012 it was announced Lee's work permit had been approved.
Tadanari Lee's Asia Cup final goal
Lee looked slightly raw on his debut at Millwall on January 28th 2012. The Japanese livewire soon settled in and made a real impact at St Marys. He scored the goal of the season against Derby on 18th February, angling a shot into the top corner. A week later he put in a superb display at Watford. His movement was incredible in the 3-0 Vicarage Road win. Lee lined up against Leeds on 3rd March just days after competing in the Far East for Japan. He looked tired, but still provided the assist for Rickie Lambert in a 1-0 victory at Elland Road. Sadly Lee's 2011/12 season would come to a premature end not long after due to injury.
Lee never did regain his momentum following his return to fitness in 2012/13. He scored a decent goal against Stevenage in the League Cup, but looked awful in a subsequent clash at Leeds in October. He netted four in three for the U21s, but also missed a penalty in a draw with Manchester United in December. He made his final Saints appearance of 2012/13 as a late substitute against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Lee signed for Tokyo FC on loan in February 2013, where he returned to form.
Lee made a few uninspiring appearances for Saints U21s during the summer of 2013. He was invited back to the first team squad early into the 2013/14 season. Lee looked fairly poor in League Cup outings against Bristol City and Sunderland. He appeared on the bench in the Premier League a couple of times, but soon dropped back down the ranks following the emergence of Sam Gallagher. He did score a brace for the U21 side in a 2-2 draw with Blackburn at Staplewood on 21st October 2013.
Lee was released by Saints on 14th January 2014.