VALENCIENNES, France (AFP) ― Having overcome difficulties with the language barrier, Valenciennes’ South Korean youngster Nam Tae-hee has begun to play a central role in his side’s battle to avoid relegation.
With two assists in nine appearances this season, the 19-year-old is starting to make his presence felt ― a little over two years since he arrived in France in January 2009.
He has also earned the faith of his coach, Philippe Montanier, who has handed Nam the keys to the Valenciennes attack in their last four matches by deploying him as a classic No. 10.
“He’s progressed. It’s true that we were expecting things from Nam because we could see his qualities in training,” said Montanier, who feels Nam is “more effective at the heart of the play.”
Valenciennes midfielder Nam Tae-hee. (AP-Yonhap News)
Both Montanier and his predecessor, current Paris Saint-Germain coach Antoine Kombouare, had expected big things of Nam, who joined Valenciennes after a spell at the academy of English team Reading.
He was initially held back, however, by his inability to master the French language.
“He had the technique but he had to put it to the service of the team,” recalls Montanier, who often wondered whether Nam had understood his training ground instructions.
“He said yes by nodding his head. But that’s in his culture: you say ‘yes’ to the boss, to the coach.”
Nam’s efforts to integrate himself into the squad were not helped by his home life.
“He lived self-sufficiently with his father,” said Montanier. “After training he went home and only spoke Korean.”
Nam, sent to Europe by his country’s football federation as part of a development program set up after the 2002 World Cup, attended lessons regularly.
He struggled, however, despite the club having found him a French teacher who spoke Korean. A solution finally arrived by chance, during a photo session at Valenciennes’ Stade Nungesser, when Nam crossed paths with Jung, a female Korean architect who agreed to teach him French.
“I am happy and I want to score goals,” is the extent of Nam’s French for the time being, but Montanier says that he has “blossomed” and “opened up to his teammates.”
When it comes to explaining precise tactical instructions, meanwhile, Montanier has established a routine.
“Now, when he doesn’t understand, Nam comes to my office,” says the coach.
“And I can explain to him what I want with magnets on a board.”
Nam’s progress has not passed unnoticed in his homeland. He received his first international call up for the 0-0 draw with Turkey on Feb. 9, distinguishing himself despite playing in an unfamiliar position on the right wing.