Football: Sailors sign Korean Kim Shin-wook in SPL-record $3m deal over three years

Kim Shin-wook will be on a three-year deal that is understood to be worth more than $3 million. PHOTO: LION CITY SAILORS

SINGAPORE - Professionalism, winning spirit, and goals are what Kim Shin-wook has promised to bring to the Lion City Sailors as he becomes the Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions' latest marquee signing and the league's highest-paid footballer.

On Monday (Nov 15), the Sailors confirmed the South Korea striker has joined them on a free transfer as his contract with Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua is set to run out at the end of the year.

He will replace Croatian Stipe Plazibat, who scored 23 goals in 25 games for the Sailors in two years.

Kim, 33, told The Straits Times: "I felt I needed a new challenge, and the Sailors under Kim Do-hoon offered me the perfect next step for my career.

"The ambitions of the club and their structure are of a high standard, and that was of utmost importance to me when looking for a project to be a part of. Playing in the AFC Champions League is an added bonus, as I am very familiar with the tournament."

Kim, who stands at 1.98m, will be on a three-year deal that is understood to be worth more than $3 million. While this is much lower than the reported RMB30 million (S$6.34 million) annual salary he was earning in China, it is still an SPL record.

Privatised in 2020 and backed by tech giant Sea Limited, the Sailors spent $2.9 million in transfer fees to sign Brazilian midfielder Diego Lopes from then Portuguese top-tier side Rio Ave earlier this year. His three-year contract is worth in excess of $2.5 million.

They are still on the lookout for a foreign centre-back and winger to bolster their squad who are set to play in four competitions - the SPL, Singapore Cup, Champions League and the inaugural Asean Club Championship - next year.

Unfazed by the challenge of justifying his wages, Kim said: "I have come to the Sailors to help take the club to the next level.

"It isn't just about winning but raising the bar. I want to help the team reach their vision of a higher level of football while also winning competitions."

He started his career in 2009 at Ulsan Hyundai, winning the 2012 Champions League and was named the K League's Most Valuable Player a year later. He joined Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in 2016 and led them to a Champions League triumph that year and then the K League 1 title in 2017 and 2018.

During his 11 seasons in South Korea, he bagged more than 100 goals to become the top division's third-highest scorer of all time.

He also has 56 international caps and 16 goals, most recently netting a double while wearing the captain's armband in the Taegeuk Warriors' 5-0 World Cup qualifier victory over Sri Lanka in June.

Kim's wife and three children will follow him here. He said: "I was very much influenced by my father, who was an avid sports fan, and started my football journey by playing in my neighbourhood in Gwacheon.

"Likewise, I want to be involved in my kids' lives as they grow up, and Singapore offers them a world-class education and is one of the safest countries in the world.

"Football-wise, I know the SPL is definitely a league on the rise. Yes, it may not have elite status in Asia yet, but if ambitious efforts like the Sailors' project are replicated in other teams, it is surely on its way there."

Sailors coach Kim called his new player "a proven goal-scorer at the highest level (who) brings with him a winning mentality and immense experience of playing in big games".

He added: "His clinical finishing, his aerial prowess and ability to hold up play to get teammates involved in attack means he will be a massive asset to the team.

"But more than that, Shin-wook is a consummate professional.

"I believe he will be a fantastic influence in the dressing room, (able) to inspire and educate our younger players (on) the level of excellence that is required as the Sailors drive towards our vision of being a top club in Singapore and the region."

Sailors chairman Forrest Li reaffirmed the club's commitment to excellence, saying: "Bringing in top-quality players like Shin-wook will boost our domestic and regional ambitions. We will continue to improve on the football front and off the field, as we take steps towards (achieving) our vision, including our academy scholars programme and the state-of-the-art training facility that is being built."

He also expressed his appreciation for the fan support last season, when the Sailors often reached the 1,000-spectator limit under Covid-19 restrictions.

"It was fantastic to see so many fans come into stadiums last season, and their passion is the most visible yardstick of our progress. We want to continue to deliver excitement and footballing excellence on the field, so that fans back Singapore football as we drive towards our vision."

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