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Tiago Alves signs for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Al Hilal’s Brazilian attacking winger Tiago Alves has joined reigning K League Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on a three year deal for an undisclosed fee. Known simply as Tiago to K League followers, the move will see him join his third Korean club after leaving the peninsula midway through the 2016 season.

The Brazilian had been enjoying a season long loan spell at J League side Shimizu S-Pulse prior to this transfer, scoring five goals in 22 appearances across all domestic competitions.

Tiago had moved to Japan though after an underwhelming six months at his parent club Al Hilal, a stint that had seen him score once in fourteen appearances. It was a sharp contrast to his form at Seongnam, the club he previously played at for six months, where he made a claim for one of the best foreign players seen in the Korean top flight.

However, it was at Pohang Steelers where he began his K League career. Signing at the start of 2015 on loan from parent club Penapolense (a side he never made an appearance for), Tiago put in a strong enough performance to attract suitors the following year, though perhaps not enough to be considered by Pohang for their 2016 Champions League campaign. He would make the switch to Seongnam after one year with the Steelers.

During his brief time wearing the famous black shirt, he bagged thirteen goals and five assists in just twenty appearances, including a number of spectacular efforts along the way. The goal he scored against Jeonnam Dragons is one of a few notable goals that lives particularly long in the memory on these shores.

Co-host of the K League podcast 48 Shades of Football, founder of The K League Kilt site and avid Seongnam FC supporter, Mark Kelly had this to say about Tiago's stay at Tancheon:

"He wasn't exactly signed under a fanfare and I don't think many of the fans thought much about him to be honest, we were more interested in the temp stand being officially open for the new season when The Bluewings came to Tancheon on opening day. After 10 minutes though we knew we had a star in the making as he was ripping the Bluewings right-back a new one time and time again. That match was technically a "sell-out" and I think everyone was impressed by both him and Pitu" 
"He has great pace, ball control and an eye for goal which is not something you see all too often in the K League. He also has a level of consistency, scoring against Bluewings, Seoul, Pohang and Jeonbuk." 
"He settled really quickly with us but it should be noted that he also had Pitu, who I think is one of the best midfielders I've seen in Korea, threading the ball through to him every game. The two of them gelled immediately and if he can form that kind of partnership at Jeonbuk, they'll have the league sewn up by the summer."
"He plays the fans perfectly too, every goal was celebrated right in front of the Ultras."

His departure from Seongnam caused quite the stir in Korean media, with initial news coming through that Seongnam stood to make an estimated $3 million by selling him to Al Wahda. It transpired though that not only did the club not own him (unknown to many at the time), his transfer would also be hijacked and he would move to Al Hilal instead. Seongnam would not profit from the transfer, losing their best player, and subsequently fall from a comfortable top half position to shocking relegation. Had he stayed, it is quite likely Seongnam would still be in the K League Classic today.

With Jeonbuk looking to bolster their squad ahead of their return to the Asian Champions League this year, they will most likely hope that the acquisition of Tiago will fill the void left when Leonardo departed the club at the end of 2016. Jeonbuk had been in pursuit of Tiago’s signature since last January, but disqualification from continental football last year saw talks postponed and alternative signings made instead.

If Tiago can recapture the form he achieved when last in the K League, his acquisition could help set up Jeonbuk in their bid to reclaim their Champions League crown. Hopefully his unsuccessful stint in the Middle East will not have knocked his confidence.

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