K League United
·28 December 2022
K League United
·28 December 2022
As winter brings us into what will be the club’s 50th anniversary, POSCO’s financial state, in addition to a number of other factors, and the club’s golden jubilee are set to have a head-on collision.
Pohang is a coastal city in the southeast region of South Korea and was one of the hardest hit by Typhoon Hinnamnor in the first week of September earlier this year. POSCO, the company that has owned the Pohang Steelers since the club’s inception in 1973, is one of the world's largest steel manufacturing companies and the largest in South Korea.
POSCO’s Pohang plant sits along the coast and was forced to suspend operations for the first time in 49 years as a result of Hinnamnor. While there has been a gradual return to normal operations, a return to full operations can only be realized in Q1 of next year (Business Korea).
As of the publishing of this article, all three of the Pohang plant's blast furnaces and six out of 18 steel-processing facilities have returned to normal operations (Korea Times).
It comes without saying that the category 5 typhoon’s effect is also financial. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy’s investigation concluded that there was 2.4 trillion won ($1.82 billion) in lost revenue to POSCO and a subsequent 250 billion won to suppliers and subcontractors. However, concerns over supply of certain materials that only POSCO supplied in South Korea were dealt with thanks to the company’s plants in Gwangyang, South Korea, as well as imports.
Hinnamnor’s damage to POSCO has without a doubt caused the Steelers to be affected, the first of those direct effects being a September 14 match against the Suwon Samsung Bluewings being played at the Suwon World Cup Stadium, as opposed to the Steelyard where it was originally scheduled to take place.
The club would not play at home again for the rest of the regular season. In the Final Round, they would return to play in Pohang on October 8, against Jeju United, and all home matches in the final stage of the league were played in the early afternoon, reportedly due to concerns over the floodlights not working at the Steelyard.
Taking into consideration the financial impact of the typhoon to the club, it wouldn’t be brash to assume that it would be a cold winter for the club, but that quickly changed when news broke of a window-defining transfer. Prize money from qualification for the AFC Champions League has been put towards signing Zeca, the on-loan striker at Daegu FC, from Mirassol-SP, signing him to a three-year contract (Munhwa Ilbo).
The club’s recent history in the transfer market has seen a large lack of investment. Since the club’s record signing of Ianis Zicu from CSKA Sofia in 2012 for a reported €2.3 million, they have not been eager to spend, with Manuel Palacios’s 2020 transfer from FC Anyang worth a reported €845 thousand being the most that they have spent since.
There are a number of outgoings that are either rumored or finalized, such as Lim Sang-hyub to FC Seoul and Heo Yong-jun on loan to Vegalta Sendai, Kang Hyun-moo to Gimcheon Sangmu, or Lee Gwang-hyuk to Suwon FC, a move that was almost completed this summer. The club have also wasted no time making sure they hold onto players that they consider important, offering Shin Jin-ho, Wanderson and Alex Grant contract extensions or exercising options in their deals.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to speculate that any incoming transfer business will consist of bargains. Much of Pohang’s transfer activity in recent years has come as a result of free transfers or trade deals, and the deals that have been made already this winter follow that trend. Oberdan Alionço de Lima is set to join the club on loan with an option to buy from Brazilian third division side Figueirense (Sports Chosun), and it has already been reported that the club have completed free transfers for Baek Sung-dong from FC Anyang and Kim Seung-joon from Suwon FC (Sports Chosun).
The incoming transfers can be described as low-risk, high-reward. Lim Sang-hyub, a player now on his way out, was one of those players for Pohang. He joined before the 2021 season as a free transfer after his contract with Suwon Samsung Bluewings ended and at 32, he was nearing the end of his career. Under Kim Gi-dong, he found something of a career resurrection, featuring regularly and effectively, with 24 goals and 5 assists in 84 appearances across all competitions. The hope for Pohang will be that Baek Sung-dong and Kim Seung-joon, 31 and 28 years old respectively, can have a similar impact.
The most important individual whose contract expires at the end of this year is none other than the manager, Kim Gi-dong. At the 2022 K League Awards Ceremony, Kim spoke to reporters and said, “I am talking with the club [about an extension], but I hope that my value and the results that I have brought are respected in negotiations,” (Mydaily).
The manager, who is a Pohang youth product and played for the Steelers for 9 years, earned a three-year extension at the club, keeping him at the club through the 2025 season. With Kim at the wheel, Pohang have experienced two third-place finishes in the K League as well as a runners-up campaign in the AFC Champions League.
He’s been the manager since April 2019, and through just over three full seasons as the manager, he has shown great ability to compete even with less financial backing. Kim Gi-dong, through his achievements at the club, have shown that Pohang are a force to be reckoned with in the K League and on the continental level, but that they could also become a top side with enough backing.
For their 50th anniversary, it seems as though the club is willing to move into deeper water by making big moves, but are still treading cautiously by sticking to more budget-friendly transfers.
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