As Korea prepares for tonight’s friendly against Jordan in Amman, one man who knows the region quite well is Nam Tae-hee after his move to Qatari side Lekhwiya in December 2011.
At the time it was a move widely criticised, with accusations the young midfielder lacked ambition and had just chased the money.
Yet after a number of impressive seasons that have seen him force his way into the Korean national team, Nam has opened up about his move in an interview with the official Qatar Stars League website.
“A lot of people criticised me for leaving France and said that I just came to Qatar for the money, but the truth is the level of Qatari football is pretty good,” he said.
“The real reason I came is that at the time I was young and it was difficult to break into the first team at Valenciennes. I really wanted some game time under my belt and that’s why I made the move.”
After coming through all the various age group national teams, Nam went to Reading as part of a government program that sent promising young players to the UK. The program ended after a year and he headed to France.
“My experience at Reading was very useful,” he recalled.
“It opened my eyes to the game and I got to see and play against many good teams. The South Korean program at Reading only lasted one year, but at the time the UK government would not allow foreign youngsters to sign to clubs without national experience. So I couldn’t get a work permit and so I sadly didn’t join.”
However in France he found breaking into the first team difficult and his opportunities were limited.
“I knew that in France the less I played, the more I would feel discouraged and possibly lose confidence and so I decided that it would be better to come to Qatar,” the 23-year-old said.
Nam was a member of the Korean team that won Bronze at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and therefore earned an exemption from compulsory military service.
Yet despite Olympic coach Hong Myung-bo taking the reigns of the senior team and calling on a lot of the players he used in the Olympic campaign, Nam’s opportunities with the national team were few and far between after his debut against Turkey in 2011.
It was his performances for Lekhwiya last season that really put him back in national team calculations, although even then it wasn’t until new coach Uli Stielike came on board after the World Cup that he was again given a chance.
He has featured in all but one of Korea’s matches since (he remained on the bench in their 3-1 win over Venezuela in the first match post-World Cup) and was on the scoresheet in their 2-0 win over Paraguay in October.
His form in the early part of this season, under the guidance of former Swansea manager Michael Laudrup, was more than worthy of reward, with six goals in ten games putting him equal third in the Golden Boot race.
But despite his run of good form over the last 12 months, Nam is always looking to improve his game.
“I am playing as an attacking midfielder (this season). To be honest this encouragement from Laudrup is great because I am naturally an attacking player, so I am enjoying my role more and he has given me extra confidence,” he said.
“The one area I really want to improve is my running off the ball. I want to cause problems for opposition defences with my runs when I don’t have the ball.”
If he continues his form for club and country we will be seeing a lot of Nam Tae-hee in the years to come.