The sharpest and fearsome player in the K-League right now, Na Sang-ho and reporter Seo Ho-jeong had a conversation. The interview was written prior to the game on the 14th. (Editor’s note)
‘OOO form crazy’. Praise these days is pouring down on FC Seoul’s forward after every match. After 12 rounds, Na Sang-ho has 8 goals and 2 assists. He ranks first in scoring, and became the first player to break 10 offensive points. He has scored 4 goals and 2 assists in the last 5 games, and proved his peak form in the home game against Gwangju FC on the 9th. In the 20th minute of the second half, 2 minutes after being substituted, Hwang Ui-jo finished a cross from the right flank with a scissor kick that was close to skill.
It’s a completely different pace from Na Sang-ho just a year ago. Na Sang-ho, who scored a goal in the opening game against Daegu last season, needed about three more months before he scored his second goal of the season. The season ended with 8 goals and 4 assists, but there were severe ups and downs in terms of performance. The weight of the captain’s armband, which was handed over from Ki Sung-yueng during the season, also seemed to be great.
Na Sang-ho of the 2023 season is a special player who shakes the entire K-League 1 plate. Abandoning the image of a winger who faithfully fulfills his diligent and tactical role, he regained the image of a goal scorer full of destructive power that he showed in Gwangju and Seongnam in the past. The best K-League in April (EA SPORTS K-League Player of the Month) also became his. What triggered it, and what kind of troubles and efforts did Na Sang-ho himself make? He asked directly at GS Champions Park located in Guri.
– The goal against Gwangju was a wonder goal that would make everyone’s mouth drop open. It was such a wonderful goal that even the reaction of coach Ahn Ik-soo broke the seal.
A good cross came from Euijo, and in that situation, I decided that it would be better to take it with non-stop shooting rather than touch it once. I handled it confidently, and it seems to have been nicely finished. I think that kind of scene is half confidence. It was a result of the confidence accumulated in the previous games this season. The other half is the result of training. It’s a posture that could easily get injured, but I think the part that came out naturally during the game was possible through practice.
– My condition is so good right now, so I won’t be pushed back in a tolerable competition. Sometimes, if you fall in the opponent’s body fight in the box, you’ll get a penalty kick, but it looks like you’re enduring it.
I guess not bad. When I get on the pitch, I have a lot of confidence that I can help the team. I also have a desire to do better in the performance part. Because I research and put in effort in that area, it works in the arena.
– In terms of scoring pace, what is the difference between the past two years in Seoul and now? From an observer’s point of view, the condensed power from the chance explodes. Before, it was like having a lot of movement and losing strength at the end.
I am really grateful to my colleagues for that. I think they help me a lot. (Lim) Sang-hyup hyung talked about it in an interview, and it is true that Sang-hyup hyung is doing the defensive part that I have to handle as a team. Thank you so much for that sacrifice. Unlike last year, I play in a higher position now. Even if you don’t go down much, the defenders are holding up. Because my other teammates take a step further and join the defense. My tactical job now is to focus on goals. It’s not that I don’t play defense at all. If a dangerous situation could arise from my position, I have to go on defense. But the frequency is less this year. As the number of sprints to join the defense has decreased, I can use that power more on offense.
– Many people feel that Na Sang-ho’s level has gone up a couple of steps. What was the trigger for your awakening?
I was looking forward to it ahead of this season. I didn’t expect it to be like this. The starting point was the World Cup. Running on a big stage gave me confidence. At the same time, I got homework. I felt that I needed the power to break through the opponent’s active and strong defense. There are many parts that have been filled through training on the physical part. I studied how to show an explosive performance in a dribbling situation while watching Napoli’s Hvica player or (Son) Heung-min hyung’s video. What they had in common was that they pushed forward aggressively even if they tried and risked being taken away. Even if you fail your dribble attempt, I think you should continue to be a threat to your opponents after that. So I try to be confident in the aggressive part.
– The match against Uruguay in the World Cup was Na Sang-ho’s life game, but at the same time, I think it was the starting point for his form this season.
It was my first World Cup appearance in my life, and it is true that it became a turning point for me to show good performances now. If it wasn’t for that match, I wonder if I’m doing well now. I think a lot about the team developing only when I have my own competitiveness. When I go to the national team, there are always good players, and in order not to be left behind by them, I also tried to keep working hard and have a level where I can compete. There was a sense of pressure when I started for the game against Uruguay, but I kept controlling my mind to show myself once more. It would be a loss to me and the team if I couldn’t show all my skills due to the pressure of this precious opportunity, so I made up my mind to do it first. I went in and thought I could play well and confidently, but that was the game that came true.
– You must have had a hard time before the World Cup. The jagged performance in Seoul, the outside eyes that seemed to read that he was the crown prince of Bentu Lake and read it as a preferential treatment when he went to the national team… It was true that there
were parts that were mentally difficult. But rather than caring about anyone’s eyes, I focused on myself. I was annoyed at myself for why my condition was not consistent and the ups and downs were so severe. I thought about what I should do and tried and tried again. I looked back at the videos I played well and looked back on my mindset back then. I think it’s time to find your original intention.
– You could have performed well at the World Cup, heard Europe’s interest, and had various thoughts, but what did you focus on?
I felt a lot of physical problems at the World Cup. During this winter season, I paid attention because I wanted to change that part positively. Right at the end of the World Cup, I thought about what I should show from now on. I couldn’t show a good performance with only expectations, so I changed my resolve in training. At FC Seoul, I wanted to show a different side of football that can bring joy to the fans. When I bumped into a player with a high level of physical skill, I felt that I was overpowering. I had to add more power parts to gain more strength and explosive power, so I increased my muscle mass. At the same time, when I go to the race and sprint, I feel that I have gained more strength in terms of speed.
– I heard that player Hwang Eui-jo is almost living with him after coming to Seoul. And he said that he learned a lot.
The advantage of Uijo hyung is great. Even at the 2018 Asian Games, I learned a lot from him. Rebuttal Fast shooting, possession of the ball… Now that we live together as a team member, being able to talk and learn about body care and mind control is the hidden driving force behind this year’s success. I’m following my brother’s cycle. When I go to work in the morning, I come to the clubhouse on time. The day before the game, we stay together at Uijo-hyung’s house and match our patterns. Starting this year, the club does not camp the day before the home game, but I live with my older sister, so I go to Uijo-hyung’s house, eat and sleep together, and move the next day. We do the cycling for the day together in line with the game, and in the process, we also discuss the plays we can play together in the front. Even during the match against Gwangju, the truth is that I and Lee Do-hyung should have played opposite roles in the scoring scene. The original plan was for me to post it and hyung to put it in, but it was fun because the opposite happened at the stadium.
– There is a lot of talk about whether going to Europe is a matter of timing.
Transferring to any stage is not an easy task in itself. My heart shouldn’t be lifted just by saying something like that. The number one thing a player has to do well on their current team is. If you don’t get excited, there will only be a sense of loss. I have a goal of Europe, but I didn’t care because I’m spending the season in Seoul right now. During last winter, he focused on what to do in Seoul this season, and if he does well here, it will lead to a better situation. It still is. Europe’s interest, even when I hear such a thing, I just say, ‘Oh, that’s right’. I’m just trying to focus on consistently showing good performances.안전놀이터
– It’s not Europe, but I think returning after failing once in Japan will be a good experience and learning effect if I go abroad again later.
When I went to Japan (FC Tokyo), it was my first time living alone, so I just stayed at home. I had a hard time in a dark state because I was thinking about it alone. I think that has become a good experience now. I learned that I have to stay active, not let my body sag when I am alone, and bring out the positives through relationships with my colleagues. It’s true that I should have endured better. (Oh) Jaesuk hyung, (Jang) Hyeonsu hyung, and (Yoo) Insu hyung helped me a lot, but I couldn’t overcome that because I was shy and timid. Even now, my personality hasn’t changed, but I think I have to do it even if I don’t want to succeed in soccer. If you listen to the stories of players who have gone abroad, they say that getting close to your teammates is the first step to success. I came to Seoul and changed that part. As we are doing now, we have to take a good pattern.
– Player Hwang Eui-jo revealed that he is also studying English in his spare time. Are you aiming to advance to the PL?
I am doing non-face-to-face video classes 2-3 times a week. Since English is commonly used in almost all countries, I am studying it. Even if I can’t go abroad, studying English is helpful in my life. I can get along well with the foreign players on the team. It’s still in its infancy, so there’s still a long way to go. But if you hear people say that your English has improved, your motivation will be stronger, so you have to keep trying.
– The competition in the national team is getting fiercer. How will the experiences of March affect June when we reconvene?
The March convocation was a good experience. I thought that the football coach Klinsman wanted was very aggressive, so it could work well for me in the future. It is also the reason why my team is trying to be more aggressive. I think I was able to show a good performance now through such a circulation. If I get selected in June, I want to go and show a good image. There are many good colleagues, so the competition is fierce, but I have to put in a lot of effort.
– Looking at the past 3 years at FC Seoul, both the team and Na Sang-ho overcame difficult times and rode the current good flow. How would you like to express your gratitude for the time you are spending on this team?
I think of the team first rather than myself, and as a result, my good performances followed. If I say I prepare for the team, it will definitely come back to me. FC Seoul is in a good position right now, but I want to be in a better position by showing good competitiveness until the end. I want to show my fans a good image and lift the trophy. And I have another goal. Last month, when Lim Young-woong came to the home game and 40,000 spectators filled it up, it gave me more strength. I want to play in that atmosphere once again this season. It is said that there was a time in the past where we played a home game with the Seoul World Cup Stadium full.