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Interview: "An Individual is Weak, But a Team is Strong," Says Nam Ki-il



The appointment of Nam Ki-il as the new manager of Jeju United last December signaled that the club was serious about reversing its fortunes following relegation in 2019, and a lot has been done in the off-season to create a sense of optimism for the coming campaign. The architect of two promotion-winning seasons is confident he has the players and staff capable of returning the islanders to the top flight. He took the time to share his thoughts with KLU's Branko Belan with the kickoff to the new season just around the corner.


Last season with Seongnam FC, Nam Ki-il successfully kept the team well above the relegation zone, as the Magpies finished with double-digit wins in the first division a year after promotion. After accepting the managerial role with Jeju United, he stated it would be his first priority to re-establish the Tangerines as a proud football club and that promotion was a number one priority.

To this end, several moves were made in the winter transfer window to bolster the squad, and, as such, many of the players who were with him last season, namely Eder Lima, Lee Eun-beom, Jo Seong-joon and Gong Min-hyun, also moved to the island.

While results are important, he also stresses the development of players as a key factor to success.

"Every time I took charge of the team, I was able to get good results from difficult situations. Promotion was the ultimate goal, but I thought the growth of individual players was also important. As players grow, the team develops naturally. Through this process, the time required for promotion shortened and trust with the players increased."

Nam already has a history with the organization, having spent six seasons with Bucheon SK from 1997 to 2003, before the club relocated to Jeju three years later. His appointment as manager of the club now has certainly impacted him positively.

Jeju United training in Chang Rai, Thailand, February 1st, 2020. Nam Ki-il instructs Lee Dong-ryul.
His expectations can be high, but his sincerity has impacted the players positively this off-season.

"Firstly, I was really happy to be appointed the coach of Jeju, my home team that made my dream come true. I was strongly influenced by direct, short passing and attacking-minded football which Bucheon SK played back in the 1990s under manager Valery Nepomnyashchy. Also, the vision of the SK conglomerate (or SK Group), unwilling to invest in the sports industry moved my mind. Those are the factors that affected me in making decisions. Particularly with the team’s relegation to the second division, the club is looking to move forward and change in some areas."

As an aside, Nepomnyashchy led Bucheon SK to a League Cup title in 1996 and was known for his creative style of football, which earned the moniker "Nepo football" and which left an indelible mark on K League history, owing to its free-flowing application on the pitch. Several of his former players, such as Choi Yun-kyum, Cho Sung-hwan, Song Seon-ho, Yoon Jung-hwan, Kang Chul and Kim Ki-dong, were influenced by his philosophy and later went on to become successful managers.

The former manager of the Uzbek national team was invited by Bucheon FC to attend their tenth-anniversary match against Seoul E-Land after they had been reborn as a club.

Jeju United training in Chang Rai, Thailand, February 1st, 2020. Tactical instruction by Nam Ki-il.
The squad has taken to Nam Ki-il's brand of leadership since his appointment.

Returning to the present, Jeju looks to have a strong team heading into the 2020 season and preparations in the off-season have progressed very well. Several players have looked strong in recent intra-squad matches but there is one in particular who has caught the eye of his new manager.

"Joo Min-kyu. He is a versatile striker. He has already shown his best performance in the second division. With the addition of Joo Min-kyu, attack options have become more diverse. I will try to maximize my offense by combining him with existing players. He is also getting sharper as he has recently scored multiple goals in practice games."

As a manager, Nam Ki-il has come to be highly regarded among his peers, and his philosophy certainly has a big part in that.

"The most important philosophy is that of ‘one team.’ What the squad wants is a mindset of 'one, together.' An individual is weak, but a team is strong. Before the start of the campaign, the slogan we chant together is “Jeju is one”. In Jeju, I also stress that not just one person is responsible for the situation, but the whole team. I encourage us to overcome difficulties together and celebrate together. If they do not lose their responsibility as "one team" and their coolness ahead of matches, promotion to the first division will become a reality."

He has been down this path before. In 2014 with Gwangju FC, the club would finish the season fourth in the table and qualify for the playoffs thanks to solid contributions throughout the club, as Fabio Neves netted eight goals that season, Lee Jong-min was among the league leaders in assists, and Kim Ho-nam was named to the K League Challenge Best XI.  Gwangju would defeat Gangwon FC, Ansan Police, and finally Gyeongnam FC in the two-leg final to progress to the top division.

Nam Ki-il looks on as Gwangju FC won the first leg of the playoff final against Gyeongnam FC by a score of 3-1 on December 3rd, 2014.
Nam Ki-il was the architect of Gwangju FC's 2014 promotion success.

In 2018 with Seongnam, things were a bit different as the club finished second in the standings but were awarded automatic promotion following the inability of champions Asan Mugunghwa to secure their club status and the Magpies soared into the top flight.

Nam is optimistic about Jeju's chances for success.

"Regardless of how many times I succeeded in earning promotion what I think now is that Jeju should return to where they belong. Promotion is not just due to good performance, but also due to hard work and luck. As I said earlier, the growth of players is also important. Unlike when taking charge of teams with poor finances, Jeju can offer a manager more leeway to sign players the manager wants. A manager has a sense of responsibility and pressure to deliver on this, but I don't worry because I have a staff and players."

K League United would like to extend a warm thank you to both Nam Ki-il and Jeju United for taking the time to speak with us.  A special thank you also goes to Muyeol Jung, our Daegu FC correspondent for his translation of the interview.

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