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A Look Ahead at Pohang Steelers' Summer Transfer Window

Pohang Steelers have enjoyed a successful start to their 2023 season. They sit second in the table despite injuries to key players. The summer transfer window has opened as the international break ends, and the 50-year-old club is expected to make a few moves. Pohang Steelers columnist Zeno Jo takes a look at the recent form of the club, what past summer transfer windows looked like, revisits the depth chart, identifies some holes that they need to fill, positional targets and what their transfer business might look like.


"The Pohang Mentality"

In an interview with Footballist after his team's 1-1 draw with FC Seoul, Kim Gi-dong expressed gratitude and happiness towards his players for their performance. He said that the team had been playing to plan, but fell behind with Hwang Ui-jo's superb strike from outside the box. Speaking on the goal, Kim said "We can't do anything about that, it was a display of individual talent."

The game plan changed in the second half, and Kim Gi-dong said of his players, "I'm thankful to these players for not giving up on the road, and preventing a loss. I think this is the Pohang mentality." 

The Steelers have been the liaison for a number of last-minute equalizers and winners to opposing teams this season. Daegu FC, Gangwon FC, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Daejeon Hana Citizen, Jeju United and FC Seoul have all fallen victim to late Pohang goals that have come no sooner than the 89th-minute mark. 
The "Pohang mentality" has been the difference between earning four points from those six matches and earning 14 points. Without those goals, Pohang would have just 21 points from 18 matches, which would have the Steelers sitting at ninth instead of second (before Round 19).

He also mentioned the importance of the international break in regard to injuries, speaking on how the international break is important for key players like Jung Jae-hee, Kim Jong-woo and Sim Sang-min, who have been dealing with injuries. While depth has been an issue for Pohang, Kim Gi-dong also praised the team's ability to step up in place of injured players, saying, "Wanderson is being used as a fullback as a result of [Sim] Sang-min's injury. He's playing well and I'm thankful for that."

Toward the end of the interview, Kim Gi-dong was asked about transfer news, as the window would open on June 23. In response, he said, "Youtube will probably be faster than me [for knowing transfer news]. So far, I have not heard anything."

Pohang's Typical Summer Transfer Business

The "Pohang mentality" isn't just responsible for points gained where points may have been otherwise lost or shared, it's also responsible for pushing the team forward when on shaky legs, whether that be due to injury or poor form.

For a manager to have not heard anything about potential transfers just days away from the window opening is not out of the ordinary, at least not for Pohang. While Kim Gi-dong has some say in transfer targets, external factors such as club finances may restrict transfer targets.

Historically, Pohang's summer transfer business has consisted almost entirely of free agents. While Pohang's general transfer business usually consists of free signings, trades and loans, and this applies to their summer business as well.


In recent summers, they've welcomed Stanislav Iljutcenko, Oh Beom-seok and Park Seung-wook on free transfers, while Aleksandar Palocevic and Choi Young-joon have joined as loanees. After a window of no incoming transfers in 2022, this summer's window is set to also consist of low-cost moves.

The club have already completed a trade deal with FC Seoul that will see Pohang youth product Lee Seung-mo and midfielder Han Chan-hee swap jerseys. It's been described as a "win-win" trade for both clubs, with Lee Seung-mo able to fill in at striker after Hwang Ui-jo's impending departure. 
   
Han Chan-hee has been on Pohang's radar for quite some time, and is regarded as the type of midfielder that Kim Gi-dong needs for his system. His passing power and accuracy is needed after the departures of Shin Jin-ho and Lee Soo-bin, especially given Shin's replacement, Kim Jong-woo, has missed significant time this season due to injury. 

An Updated Depth Chart

 In the club's 2023 preview article, I previewed what the team's starting eleven would be. There were hits and there were misses, but here is the most recent depth chart, consisting only of players that have been in match day squads this season, with members of the best eleven bolded:

GK: Hwang In-jae, Yun Pyeong-guk
Yun was the preseason favorite to start due to a solid showing in 2022 as the replacement while Kang Hyun-moo recovered from injury, but Kim Gi-dong has favored Hwang In-jae, who returned from military service at Gimcheon Sangmu in December. The expectation is that Hwang will stay as the starter, and thanks to Yun being a more than capable option, no further recruitment is expected.

LB: Sim Sang-min, Wanderson, Park Seung-wook
Sim Sang-min didn't enjoy the best of seasons in 2022. He lost his vice captaincy and saw a dip in form and was expected to leave in the winter, with Daejeon being a rumored destination. He'searned his spot in the starting eleven and is still a Steeler, with Wanderson a solid backup. Park Seung-wook is also able to play in this position, but features more often on the right or middle of the defense, meaning there could be a depth issue if Sim or Wanderson suffer an injury.

CB: Alex Grant, Ha Chang-rae, Park Chan-yong, Park Seung-wook, Lee Gyu-baeg
Center back is arguably Pohang's best position in terms of depth. They have three players who have started regularly at the position for the club in the past two seasons in Grant, Ha Chang-rae and Park Chan-yong. Park Seung-wook has featured in this position this season, too, and 19 year old Lee Gyu-baeg has been on the bench a few times as well.

RB: Park Seung-wook, Kim Yong-hwan, Shin Kwang-hoon, Bak Keon-woo
Pohang enjoy a luxury of choices at right back as well. Park Seung-wook is the Swiss army knife of the defense, being able to feature all across the back line as well as in defensive midfield. When he's needed elsewhere, Kim Yong-hwan is usually called into action, with Shin Kwang-hoon another veteran option. Bak Keon-woo also made his debut earlier this season.

CM: Oberdan, Kim Jong-woo, Han Chan-hee, Kim Jun-ho, Park Seung-wook, Shin Kwang-hoon
Oberdan has proven to be one of the best K League signings this season, and Kim Jong-woo, when healthy, has also proven to be a solid Shin Jin-ho replacement. Kim Jong-woo's injury meant that either Lee Seung-mo or Kim Jun-ho would start alongside Oberdan, but Lee's trade for Han Chan-hee means that Han is likely starting. Park Seung-wook and Shin Kwang-hoon can also play in this position.

AM: Go Young-joon (injured), Cho Jae-hun, Yoon Jae-woon
It comes without saying that this position is (and has been) Go Young-joon's for the past few seasons. With him injured, Cho Jae-hun is likely the next man up. He's able to play in the same central role, as well as out on the wing. Cho is also a U-22 option. If Pohang feels the need to bolster their depth at any position, it might be this one.

LW: Baek Sung-dong, Kim Seung-dae, Cho Jae-hun, Wanderson
If Go Young-joon has been the club's go-to attacking midfielder, Baek has been the club's go-to left winger. He's been great despite some preseason worries about being able to adjust to K League 1 play, but he's proven his doubters wrong. As mentioned in the left back section, an injury to Baek could be fatal to the position's depth, but not the end of the world. 

RW: Jung Jae-hee (injured), Kim In-sung, Kim Seung-dae, Cho Jae-hun, 
After enjoying a successful 2022 campaign, Jung Jae-hee cemented himself as the best right winger at the club. He started most games at the position before suffering a hamstring injury, and minutes have been shared by Kim In-sung and Kim Seung-dae since. Kim In-sung has played more, by a margin. Depth at this position, when considering that there are a number of players who can step in, is not meager, but the quality of depth could be an issue. 

ST: Zeca, Lee Ho-jae
Both Zeca and Lee Ho-jae have been good this season. Lee has enjoyed the greater goalscoring output, scoring five while Zeca has done an excellent job in passing and setting up teammates, assisting five. Unless one of these players suffers an injury, depth at this position is not an issue. Kim Seung-dae, though older now, earned the nickname"Line Breaker" thanks to his contributions as an attacker. 

Positions to Fill

Before the season started, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to think that Pohang could struggle with depth issues to some extent. They filled holes around the team, bringing in Zeca as Heo Yong-jun left and also Kim Jong-woo and Oberdan for Shin Jin-ho and Lee Soo-bin. 
 
Lim Sang-hyub and Lee Gwang-hyeok also left, their positions filled by Baek Sung-dong and Kim In-sung, but Pohang also recruited Suwon FC's Kim Seung-jun, as reported by Sports Chosun. Pohang's winter business was done after the signing of Kim, but the sudden and unexpected twist of his arrest due to faking epilepsy to avoid military service meant that Pohang could not turn to other options. 

Jung Jae-hee and Go Young-joon's injuries, which are set to rule both of them out until August, mean that Pohang's second line is in need of reinforcement.

While left wing has been claimed by Baek Sung-dong and right wing has been shared by Kim Seung-dae and Kim In-sung, the lack of depth behind Baek could be an issue as the club's schedule gets packed. A winger that can play on the left but is flexible enough to play on the right might be what Pohang are looking for this summer.

An injury to either Baek Sung-dong or Sim Sang-min could prove to be brutal to Pohang, as Wanderson has been the second option at both left wing and left back. Because of this, the club could also go after a left back, as it would eliminate the need for Park Seung-wook to abandon right back duties to cover in the case of an injury.

Potential Targets

As true with any other transfer window, names are thrown around and labeled as transfer targets. Transfer targets are identified based on rumors, who would fit Kim Gi-dong's system, and obtainability. In the past year, the club sold Lee Hyun-ju and Kim Yong-hak to Bayern Munich and Portimonense, respectively, meaning that they should have a bit of money to spend. Here are a few of those players that are rumored to be transfer targets, past transfer targets and a few personal picks for players that the club should go after.

Jeon Jin-woo: Jeon is a player that Pohang is rumored to have held an interest in, though those rumors have died down recently due to Suwon Samsung hiring a new manager. The 23-year-old attacker is able to play all across the second line of attack; both wings and through the middle. This season, he has just 8 K League 1 appearances. As of the writing of this article, he has played just 26% of Suwon's minutes and started just 21% of their games, according to Transfermarkt

Park Dae-won: Park was linked to Pohang in a transfer rumor earlier this season, a trade deal that would have seen Kim Gi-dong's son Kim Jun-ho make the switch for Park Dae-won and Kang Tae-won. Park was likely pursued under the assumption that Park Chan-yong, Pohang's third-choice center-back, would be going to Gimcheon Sangmu at the end of the season. His application was not accepted, which may have led to Pohang pulling out of negotiations. Park Dae-won can play all across the defensive line, but is most comfortable in the middle. As of now, a pursuit for Park Dae-won is unlikely.

A K3 League Player: One of Pohang's most important players this season and in the seasons since his arrival is Park Seung-wook. Park played in the K3 League's Busan Transportation Corporation, a team that Pohang played against in the preseason of 2021. A player like Kang Yong-seok, a 23-year-old midfielder that has scored 6 goals this season for Gangneung Citizen, could be on Pohang's radar to add some depth behind Oberdan, Han Chan-hee and Kim Jong-woo. It's always hard to expect or predict moves from K3 to K League 1, so it's hard to pinpoint a single name unless it's just speculation.

A Former Pohang Player: Pohang always has open arms when it comes to welcoming back veterans of the club. Even in the current squad, Kim Seung-dae, Shin Kwang-hoon and Wanderson are back for their second or third spells in horizontal black and red stripes. In the past few years, they've also welcomed Shin Jin-ho and Oh Beom-seok back, for example. The current market for former Steelers is... mixed, to say the least. Some have left only recently, such as Jeonbuk's Oh Jae-hyeok, while some have become too expensive to bring back, like Daejeon's Lee Jin-hyun and Daegu's Lee Jin-yong. Regardless, Pohang is never hesitant to bring back a former player of theirs, given the finances are right.  

Conclusion

Pohang still has something to play for in three different competitions: K League 1, the FA Cup and the AFC Asian Champions League. This is great news when considering their chances of adding to their trophy case in their 50th season, but it means that the thickest portions of their schedules are still to come. When they compete in the Champions League, the Asian Games will be going on, meaning that Go Young-joon (if healthy and selected) and possibly others may be unavailable.

The times that Pohang has struggled the most this season have been due to depth. Jung Jae-hee and Kim Jong-woo fell to injury just two weeks apart, and the team suffered its longest winless stretch this season — three games. 

If Pohang does hope to add to their trophy case this year, they'll need depth, and waiting around for injured players to recover might not be enough. While the front office will be unwilling as always to spend a lot of cash, the goal this summer should be to add quality depth, not to upgrade members of the first team.  

FNR

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