KNOWN for his creativity and scoring prowess, Nam Tae-Hee, a bundle of energy, was hailed as the ‘Korean Messi’ at Valenciennes in France, his first professional club.
Nam’s current coach Djamel Belmadi had just ended his career at the same club, when the South Korean international joined them from English club Reading’s youth side in 2009.
Belmadi, who was greatly impressed by Nam’s skills, set sights on the player and signed him in January, 2012. The attacking midfielder quickly got into the groove and has played a pivotal role in their nine title wins, including four Qatar Stars League (QSL) shields.
The diminutive player is already tipped to win this season’s best-player award for his exploits in the league, but Belmadi will expect him to help them complete a domestic treble and go all the way in the AFC Champions League.
Nam spoke about Lekhwiya, QSL and South Korea’s 2018 World Cup campaign during an exclusive interview with Doha Stadium Plus.
What’s the difference you’ve noticed since you came to Qatar?
The QSL has become more competitive. It’s not easy to beat teams like Al Ahli and Umm Salal.
Nowadays, I get to see a lot of young Qataris playing alongside foreigners in the QSL. If you ask me about Lekhwiya, I would say we’ve improved a lot since the time I’ve joined.
What’s your next goal?
My immediate goal is to help Lekhwiya win the two cups and qualify for the AFC Champions League’s knockout stage. The win against Esteghlal Khouzestan was important as we now lead the group. It was doubly sweet as it came three days after we had won the league. We hope to continue like this.
Lekhwiya missed a lot of senior players during the season. How tough was to play without them?
We did miss Youssef (El Arabi), Chico Flores, and Youssef Msakni for many games. They form the team’s backbone, but I’m happy that others really played well.
Why did you join Lekhwiya when you could’ve played in Europe?
I wanted to be a regular in the Valenciennes first XI, but it wasn’t possible because I was very young. Lots of people had said that I came to Qatar for money which isn’t actually the case. My target was to play more matches and not to spend time on the bench. I found the level of Qatari football was pretty okay and that QSL had some quality players. I’m happy with the decision I took five years ago.
How did you reach Reading and Valenciennes?
As part of the South Korean government’s scheme, three promising players were sent to England to gain experience on a one-year programme. I was at Reading’s Youth Academy, but the club couldn’t sign me as a professional because I was only 16. I left for France and signed my first professional contract with Valenciennes, which was in Ligue 1 then. I made my debut against AS Nancy in August, 2009.
Do you think South Korea can make it to the World Cup finals?
Honestly, we’re not in a very good situation after our defeat against China last month, but we still have a strong chance as we’re second in the group. We’ve difficult matches against Iran, Qatar and Uzbekistan. We’ll give our best shot.