South Korean left-back, Lee Ki-je, has put pen to paper on an extended two-year deal with the Newcastle Jets as the Hunter outfit continues to rebuild for next season.
Since arriving in Australia two months ago the 23-year-old has been one of the few good news stories for a squad struggling to make its mark on the pitch.
In a significant boost for the club, the former Shimizu S-Pulse utility Lee, 23, has committed to remain at Hunter Stadium until the end of the 2016/17 campaign.
A former youth international and already a fans favourite, Lee scored twice in eight appearances since linking with the Jets in February this year.
His darting runs down the pitch and incisive play both in defence and attack have provided some positive commentary in what has been a bleak season for the last-placed Jets.
Speaking with the assistance of an interpreter, Lee said he had adjusted well to life in Newcastle.
“I am happy to stay at Newcastle,” Lee said. “It’s a very good place, and I have enjoyed my time at the club and with my teammates.”
“But the main reason I have extended my contract is because the club showed that they really wanted me to stay, the coach wanted me to stay.”
“After some time back in Korea in the off-season, I will come back to Australia with my family alongside me,” he said.
Coach Phil Stubbins believes the club is yet to see the best of Lee.
“We have already witnessed Lee Ki-je’s quality in the Hyundai A-League, but I believe that there is plenty of improvement left in him,” Stubbins said.
“We must remember that when Ki-je arrived at the club he had had no pre-season, and no previous interaction with Australia.
“He’s adapted rapidly – culturally and from a footballing perspective – and that’s something he deserves to be commended on. The longer Lee Ki-je is with us, the better footballer I believe fans will see.”
Jets CEO, Mitchell Murphy said the club was determined to put together a competitive playing roster.
“Ssecuring Ki-je is a massive boost to achieving that primary objective," he said.
“Ki-je is a high quality left back, but the added bonus for us is he can also play higher up the field if required. He has already proven he can score goals.”
“Our holistic planning for recruitment and retention with an eye to next season will continue to be methodical, and our fans can be assured we’ll be making decisive decisions over the next few months in the build up to the pre-season.”
“Beyond playing ability, we want players with the right attitude.”
“Nigel Boogaard (signed from Adelaide United for the next three seasons) will be a fine leader both on and off the pitch and in Ki-je’s case his commitment to training is first-rate, he has embraced living in Newcastle and has been very popular at junior coaching clinics,” Murphy concluded.