Zeca, who is leaving the arms of Pohang Steelers coach Kim Ki-dong to head to China, refused to be deterred by his loyalty to the team.

Before the 2023 Hana OneQ K League Grand Award ceremony at Lotte Hotel World in Songpa-gu, Seoul, on Thursday, when reporters asked him about his move, he said, “My relationship with Pohang is not over yet. I still have a contract.”

Zeca is headed to Shandong Taishan in the Chinese Professional Football League, coached by Choi Kang-hee. This was publicly confirmed by Pohang’s head coach Kim.

“Zeca is going to Shandong,” Kim told reporters before the final K League 1 match of the season against Gwangju FC at the Gwangju Football Stadium. I’ve said goodbye to the players.”

“He (Zeca) told me that if he came all the way here (Gwangju) and didn’t give his all for fear of getting injured, he would feel sorry for the other players. We didn’t bring him here out of consideration,” he elaborated.

“I didn’t know what the coach said in the interview,” Zeca laughed, surprised by Kim’s remarks.

Then he said, “But as I said earlier, I still have a contract. I haven’t signed with any other team, and there’s nothing more I can say about that,” he said, but he couldn’t wipe the suspicious smile off his face.

Pohang center back Grant, who was at the ceremony with her, heard her answer and teased, “Congratulations.”

Zeca was a standout this season, scoring 12 goals and adding seven assists in 37 regular-season appearances. At over 190 centimeters tall and with great mobility, the 1997-born player is still in his physical prime, making him highly marketable.

Shandong, led by Choi, was one of the first clubs to make an offer for Zeca, who has been one of the best performers among foreign players in the K League this season. Zeca has also been nominated for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for the 2023 K League 1 season.

With Zeca on the field, Pohang finished second in the league behind Ulsan Hyundai, breaking the Ulsan-Hyundai rivalry that had existed for four seasons.

They even won the Korean Football Association (FA) Cup, punching their ticket to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League Elite (ACLE) for the 2024-2025 season.

“I’m happy to have a season like this,” says Zeca. “I’m very grateful to my teammates,” he said, adding, “The coach helped me a lot, he gave me a lot of advice, and it worked out well for me.

“I remember the semifinal as much as the FA Cup final,” he added, “because I missed a penalty kick, but my teammates helped me recover.

Pohang defeated hosts Jeju United in the FA Cup semifinals on March 1, 4-3 on penalties after the teams played to a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes and extra time.

With Zeca heading to Shandong, Pohang could potentially reunite with Zeca as foes in the ACLE in the future.

Grant said that if they do face Zeca, they will do their best to stop them.

“Zeca is in my hands,” Grant said with a laugh when asked about the possibility of a showdown.

“I’d defend her to the hilt. I know her really well,” Grant said.

“It’s no surprise that she scores goals, and we haven’t had anyone pressing forward like that lately,” he said, adding, “As a defender, it helps just to be able to press forward.” 토토

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