There are several jobs in football that go under the radar in the midst of the glitz and glamour that the beautiful game carries with it. And one such role is that of the interpreter who is often overlooked.
However, the role of interpreter brings with it plenty of responsibilities and could make or break the career of a football coach in a foreign land where he has to rely heavily on how well the native language speaker communicates his philosophies and ideas to the players.
Perhaps, it is not surprising that the most famous interpreter in world football went onto become one of the greatest managers the game has ever seen — Jose Mourinho who started out during his late 20s as an interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Portugal.
And carrying out that job pretty well closer to home is Natakorn Thiamkeerakul, the personal interpreter for Thailand’s Japanese head coach Akira Nishino.
64-year-old Nishino was appointed as the Thailand boss in July 2019 with the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers just around the corner and the former Japan boss who doesn’t speak Thai would have found himself in hot water — if not for 30-year-old Natakorn.
“I saw Football Association of Thailand’s (FAT) announcement of appointing Nishino as the Thailand national team manager and I applied even before FAT presented Nishino at the press conference,” Natakorn recalls in an exclusive interview with FOX Sports Thailand.
A young Natakorn moved to Japan, while still in elementary school, where he got to learn Japanese and returned to Thailand to complete his high school and university education in the Kingdom graduating in political science from the Chulalongkorn University.
As a young Thai, he had started watching and playing football at the age of five. In Japan, he was also a regular at J1 League matches while keeping a close eye on Thai League and Thai football in general.
In his early days at work, he helped Nishino while the coach scouted for players at various Thai League matches across Thailand while also playing intermediary between caretaker coach Sirisak Yodyardthai and the newly-appointed boss.
“This is the first time I have worked in football. But, recently when Consadole, Sapporo and Sanfrecce Hiroshima came for preseason in Thailand, I had the opportunity to be interpreter at a football clinic for children attended by Chanathip Songkrasin and Shinji Ono as well as two from Sanfrecce,” he said.
He also had the opportunity to become the personal interpreter for Thitipan Puangchan when the Thai midfielder moved to Japanese outfit Oita Trinita. “But for some reasons, I couldn’t travel immediately and missed that opportunity,” Natakorn said.
“But I didn’t know at that moment that I would have the opportunity to become the interpreter for Nishino instead which was a surprise. Maybe in the future, if any Thai players move to J1 League, I will try and apply again,” he said.
Natakorn believes that interpreting in football comes with a different kind of challenge. “To be a good interpreter, you must understand the specifics and terminologies of that industry which here is football,” he said.
“I have to stay in touch with all the football news both in both Thai and Japanese and also have the footballing vocabulary to communicate between the coaches and players,” he said.
At the moment, it looks like Natakorn’s interpretation techniques are working as is seen on the field on Tuesday when Thailand defeated the fancied United Arab Emirates 2-1 to take the top spot in their 2022 World Cup Qualifiers group.
And there is no doubting that the young Thai translator also has had a small hand in the War Elephants’ success.