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The Kang Sang-woo Transfer Timeline: What took so long?

Having come through and shone at Pohang Steelers, not to mention a productive spell at Sangju Sangmu, Kang Sang-woo has propelled himself to the Korean National Team and attracted suitors from overseas. Having finally completed his move to Beijing Guoan after prolonged negotiations, guest columnist Zeno Jo gives a timeline of how the transfer unfolded.

Kang Sang-woo has come a long way in his footballing career. In the 2020 K League campaign, Kang Sang-woo registered 8 goals and 12 assists for Sangju Sangmu (Now Gimcheon Sangmu) and Pohang. His completion of military service and return to Pohang meant that he was able to help the Steelers finish in third place and with a spot in the AFC Champions League for the next season. In 2020 with Pohang, he played a key role in a star-studded squad that included Stanislav Iljutcenko and Aleksandar Palocevic.

Heading into the 2021 season, Pohang manager Kim Gi-dong made a request to the Pohang board that would need to be satisfied for him to remain at the club. He wanted the club to assure him that they would hold onto Kang Sang-woo and Song Min-kyu, the assists leader and the Young Player of the Year of the 2020 K League season, respectively.

The following summer, Song Min-kyu would follow in the footsteps of many star Pohang players before him, and for a while it seemed as though Kang Sang-woo would become the latest name in an ever-growing list. Life after Song would be successful for the Pohang Steelers on the continental stage, as they would reach the finals of the AFC Champions League before falling to Al-Hilal. The 2021 season as a whole saw Kang make strides in the K League and the AFC Champions League throughout the year, with the vice-captain registering seven goals and eight assists in all competitions.

The saga began with there being an assurance that Kang would wear green for the 2022 season, but many believed it would be the green befitting the defending K League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, but it ended with him sporting the green of Beijing Guoan. The following timeline will aim to provide a clearer and more concise understanding of Kang Sang-woo’s transfer to Beijing Guoan, and answer the question that many fans asked: “What took so long?”

Dec 27 2021: Kang Sang-woo is named to the national team squad for their training camp in Turkey

Kang Sang-woo’s good form in 2021 solidifies him into Paulo Bento’s national team setup, which is further backed up by his inclusion for Bento’s training camp in Turkey, which included friendlies against Iceland and Moldova. Though this was a squad that consisted entirely of players based in South Korea and Japan, Kang had been consistently called up since May 23 and for the World Cup qualifying match against Lebanon on Jan 27.

Kang’s role with the national team can be speculated upon by his listed position and by his jersey number. At times, he has been listed as a midfielder with the number 12, and other times as a defender with the number 15. In this particular set of call-ups, he seems to have been called up as a defender, with the back number 15.

Jan 3 2022: Pohang Steelers depart for their preseason training camp in Jeju

The Pohang Steelers depart for training camp in Jeju. Pictures posted to the team’s Instagram account reveal who is heading to training camp, but Kang Sang-woo is absent from the pictures

Jan 5 2022: Sports Dong-A reports that Jeonbuk is set to sign Kang Sang-woo

Though precise details have not been made public, it is believed that Kang has agreed to a contract length of three years, with the transfer fee of 1.1 billion Korean Won (approx. $910 thousand ) with an additional ‘alpha’ included, which is speculated to be a player exchange. Kang had just one year remaining on his contract at Pohang, which likely led to the club deciding to cash in on him while they had the opportunity. It is also reported that the transfer should be finalized within a week.

Jan 9 2022: The national team’s training camp in Turkey begins. 

Jan 12 2022: Kim Ki-Dong shows support for Kang regardless of decision.

At a Pohang Steelers training camp press conference, Pohang manager Kim Ki-Dong stated, “whatever he decides, I will support him,” in reference to Kang Sang-Woo’s seemingly impending transfer to Jeonbuk Hyundai.

Shin Jin-Ho, who was also present, stated that he shares the same sentiment that the fans do when an important player leaves for the club, but also explains that he understands Kang’s perspective: “As a player, when a good opportunity presents itself, leaving is the right decision, too.”

Jan 13 2022: Negotiations between Kang Sang-woo’s side and Jeonbuk are dragging on.

It’s been just over a week since the transfer was seemingly finalized on the club side of things, and despite first reports stating that personal negotiations would take just around a week or so, Jeonbuk and Kang's representatives cannot meet each other at the table.

Jan 15 2022: South Korea beats Iceland 5-1 in a friendly.

Kang Sang-woo starts the first of the two friendlies on the bench, with Bento opting for the more experienced Kim Jin-su at left-back. He would come on as a substitute in the 61st minute, replacing Kim Tae-hwan for the rest of the match.

This cameo off the bench was just his second cap at the time, and remains as his second as of the publishing of this article.

Jan 18 2022: New captain and vice-captain armbands

Captain Shin Jin-Ho and vice captain Sim Sang-Min

To begin the 2021 season, 37-year-old Oh Beom-Seok was the captain, but only made 19 appearances after struggling to find his way into the starting eleven and eventually the matchday squads as a whole. This development meant that Kang Sang-woo, the vice captain for the 2021 season, would take over the duties of captain.

Heading into the new year, it seemed as though Kang would retain his captaincy. His relationship with Steelers manager Kim Ki-dong was better than ever, and he’s finally broken into the national team setup.

However, likely due to the transfer activity surrounding Kang, 33-year-old Shin Jin-ho was named captain, while Sim Sang-min, who returned from his military service at Sangju (now Gimcheon) Sangmu, was named vice-captain. This can be pointed to as the first point in which the club put distance between themselves and Kang Sang-woo.

Jan 21 2022: South Korea beats Moldova 4-0 in friendly.

Kang Sang-woo sees no action again in the second friendly, as Bento opts to play Kim Jin-su to start and Hong Chul later on off the bench.

Jan 21 2022: Beijing Guoan enters the race.

As negotiations have been dragging on with Jeonbuk for over half of a month, other clubs begin to show an interest. Of those clubs, Beijing Guoan present themselves as a possible option for Kang. The language surrounding Beijing’s interest suggests that the transfer with Jeonbuk may fall through.

Jan 24 2022: Terms are agreed with Beijing Guoan.

As reported by The JoongAng, Kang’s transfer to Beijing Guoan is “right in front of him,” with personal negotiations finalized. According to the article, the only thing remaining before seeing Kang in a Beijing Guoan shirt would be his signature.

It’s also reported that the transfer fee is around 1.8 billion Korean Won (approx. $1.5 million), with a salary of 1.3 billion Korean Won ($1.3 million), which is around $25 thousand per week. Both figures are said to be bigger than what was offered by Jeonbuk.

Feb 9 2022: Kang retains the number 10 shirt.

Pohang Steelers announce kit numbers for the 2022 season, and it might suggest that Kang Sang-soo will stay in Pohang despite all of the rumors and reports. It’s been just around two weeks since news broke of Beijing Guoan opening talks with Kang, and over an entire month since it seemed as though his transfer to Jeonbuk was all but guaranteed.

Feb 11 2022: Local rules.

Discussion surrounding the local transfer rules in South Korea began, as controversy surrounding Kang Sang-woo joining Pohang’s preseason training camp. Jeonbuk were of the perspective that they had finalized negotiations with Pohang and only needed to finalize terms with Kang, and that Kang should be training with Jeonbuk, not with Pohang, per local rules that were still new and not made very well known at the time. Pohang believed that while they did agree on a fee with Jeonbuk, the transfer had not been finalized on personal terms, meaning Kang was still a Pohang player. Kang seemed to share the same perspective as Pohang, but at this time it appears as though Kang was no longer wanting a Jeonbuk transfer and was instead more enticed by the introduction of Beijing into the transfer saga. However, it seems as though Kang may have no choice but to go to Jeonbuk due to local rules, though he and his representatives could counter this with the help of FIFA and/or FIFPRO.

The local rule states that if a buying club offers a salary to a player that is higher than before the transfer, the buying club is able to force a transfer.

Feb 15 2022: Jeonbuk pull out of the race.

As reported by Sports Khan, Jeonbuk have officially pulled out of the race for Kang Sang-woo, and the transfer is now canceled. The article goes into detail to explain the transfer on all three fronts: the player, the selling club and the buying club. Pohang were of the perspective that Jeonbuk were responsible for finalizing personal terms. Jeonbuk felt that as a result of local rules, the player should be their own player before deciding to back out. The player believed that he had the choice between Jeonbuk and other clubs in the running.

Kang Sang-woo has just one year remaining on his contract in Pohang, meaning a transfer must happen now or in the summer transfer window if the club are looking to make money and not lose him on a free transfer next winter.

Feb 19 2022: Pohang Steelers beat Jeju United 3-0 in the K League season opener.

Kang starts the match on the bench, with vice-captain Sim Sang-min starting at left-back, Lim Sang-hyub starting at left-wing, and the under-22 Go Young-joon starting as the shadow striker/attacking midfielder. Kang would come on for Go at halftime, filling the same role that he did.

Feb 21 2022: Kang Sang-woo’s transfer to Beijing Guoan is finalized.

Kang Sang-Woo’s second-half cameo against Jeju United is to be his last time playing for Pohang barring a return to the K League. Kang is said to have had a final embrace with manager Kim Ki-dong and made his final goodbyes to his teammates in the locker room after the match.

Mar 13 2022: South Korea’s 25-man squad is called up, Kang not included.

For the first time since May of 2021, Kang is not called up by Paulo Bento for the national team. The squad called up is for matches against Iran and the United Arab Emirates, the last of the stage before the World Cup. The squad also does not include Son Jun-ho, who is contracted to Shandong Taishan in the CSL.

Mar 21 2022: Kang Sang-woo enters China, begins quarantine.

It’s revealed in an interview published April 11 by Footballist that Kang Sang-woo entered China and started his three-week quarantine on March 21. The interview also revealed details of Kang’s quarantine. His first two weeks were done in a hotel, with his last week done in an apartment. His release date from quarantine was April 11th.

He says in this interview that his plans after release from quarantine are to take a day off after arriving in Beijing, join up with the team afterwards, and start training with the squad immediately.

Mar 25 2022: The transfer window slams shut in South Korea. 

Pohang wraps up what can, in hindsight, be called a very productive window through wise spending. A list of contract terminations to free up international player spots, free signings, and trade deals were made that allowed the club to recruit while spending very little of the money they gained from reaching the final of the AFC Champions League.

A quick summary of the key transfers in and out are shown below:

Contract Termination: Mario Kvesic (NK Olimpija), Boris Tashchy (Free Agent)
Transfers out: Kim Chan (Busan IPARK), Manuel Palacios (Seongnam FC)
Trade deals: Yun Pyung-guk for Ha Seung-un and Lee Jun (Gwangju FC), Park Gun for Oh Jae-hyeok (Bucheon FC 1995)
Transfers in: Jung Jae-hee (Jeonnam Dragons, Previous trade), Park Chan-yong (Jeonnam Dragons, Unknown), Moses Ogbu (Wuhan Three Towns, Free), Wanderson Carvalho Oliveira (Al-Ittihad Kalba, Free), Kim Seung-dae (Jeonbuk Hyundai, Unknown),
Contract Expiry: Gwon Wan-gyu (Seongnam FC)

Apr 14 2022: Pohang Steelers officially announce the departure of Kang to Beijing Guoan.

Kang Sang-woo, who made his pro debut with Pohang Steelers in 2014, is given a special graphic to announce his departure to Beijing Guoan, to honor his eight years of service to the club.

Apr 15 2022: Kang Sang-Woo’s transfer to Beijing Guoan is made official.

Beijing Guoan announce the signing of Kang Sang-Woo through their official team site. He’s given the number 17 kit number, and is described as being able to play anywhere on either wing, in addition to attacking midfield. Kang also trained with the team for the first time on this day. Kang himself described the two-hour training session as a bit of a struggle, saying it was like he was filming a comedy on his own.


The transfer saga of Kang Sang-woo has been a long and winding road that, as of the publication of this article, has finally ended. Kang’s transfer was surrounded by issues surrounding personal terms, local transfer rules and lengthy quarantine periods. The article also stands to show how transfers in the K League and in Asia as a whole can be long and drawn out like this one, or quick-moving like Suwon Samsung’s Jung Sang-Bin’s move to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

This article will hopefully serve as a useful timeline to look back on his eventual transfer to Beijing Guoan.
- Zeno Jo

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