The fight to sign Lee Seung-woo intensifies as Hearts prepare to move in January

Hearts must make the South Korean forward Lee Seung-woo their highest-paid player if they are to sign him in January. The Edinburgh club are still keen on the 24-year-old but increased interest from other European and Asian teams makes competition for his signature fierce.

Tynecastle officials held talks with Lee's representatives and discussed a lucrative three-year deal for the player to move to Edinburgh. His contract with the Korean side Suwon is due to end in a matter of weeks and they want him to stay in the K League 1. Clubs in both Europe and Asia, including in Spain and Italy, are trying to tempt him away.

Talks are continuing but Hearts face a fight to convince Lee to move to Scotland. He earned a salary approaching £1million last year as Suwon's marquee player. That would vastly exceed the highest earner at Tynecastle Park. The Korean internationalist knows he can command good wages given Spanish and Italian clubs are chasing him. He is expected to decide his future soon.

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Hearts will continue to monitor the situation but are also looking at other attacking targets as they prepare to strengthen their squad in January. They want to add at least one defender and one forward when the winter transfer window opens.

They first showed an interest in Lee during the summer but Suwon did not want to sell their star man in the middle of the K League 1 season. With the campaign now finished, Lee has just completed three weeks of military training and is heading to Qatar for the World Cup. However, he will not be involved on the field. The Korean broadcaster SBS announced earlier this month that he would join their commentary team for the tournament having been overlooked by coach Paulo Bento.

Lee confirmed Hearts' interest during an interview with the K League United podcast two months ago. “It's true that the team was interested in me and we did have talks,” he said. “I am flattered by all the interest but, in the end, I myself made the choice of putting Suwon FC's opinion under consideration first. So I didn't go, and focused more on the K League and staying at Suwon FC.”

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Asked about his plans beyond the World Cup, he replied: “I'm not sure. As a footballer, every time a transfer window opens, a lot happens before it closes again. Of course, if I get a proper chance I'd really like to return to Europe again one day. If a good chance comes I'd want to make the right choice, so I'd have to think about it a lot first.”

Lee holds 11 international caps and was part of South Korea's squad at the 2018 World Cup. However, he has not been called up since 2019. At club level, he carries experience of top European clubs having joined Barcelona aged 12. He progressed through the club’s La Masia youth academy before playing for Barca B.

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Korean forward Lee Seung-woo is wanted by Hearts and other clubs.

Italian club Hellas Verona bought him for €1.5million in 2017, and two years later he moved on to Belgium with Sint-Truiden. After a loan spell at the Portuguese club Portimonense – where he was coached by former Hearts manager Paulo Sergio – Lee returned to his homeland to sign for Suwon earlier this year.