Japan ace takes on two roles…in Australia and Cambodia
“I was thinking to quit my career after the World Cup, but luckily this club made me a great offer that changed my mind” Honda on joining Melbourne Victory
Keisuke Honda wears two watches. One tells Tokyo time and the other wherever he happens to be. Always capable of doing things differently on the pitch, he is even more unpredictable off it.
Honda announced his retirement from international football this summer after his third World Cup and there was plenty of speculation that the attacker would do the same with his club career as his contract with Pachuca of Mexico was expiring. After all, the 32-year-old has always suggested that he thinks there is more to life than football, what with his venture-capital fund with actor Will Smith and ambassador positions with the United Nations.
However, the man who surprised everyone in 2009 by joining CSKA Moscow – when there was plenty of interest from far bigger clubs thanks to an impressive three seasons in Holland with VVV Venlo – signed a two-year deal with Melbourne Victory in August. The
biggest club in the A-League now boasts its biggest star and Honda will, once the season starts in October, be expected to produce on and off the pitch as a “marquee” player who is paid outside the league’s salary cap.
“I was thinking to quit my career after the World Cup, but luckily this club made me a great offer that changed my mind,” says Honda, laying on the praise for Victory boss Kevin Muscat.
“I changed my mind after I spoke to Kevin directly. He said to me he really wants to succeed as a club. He’s an ambitious person and I’m an ambitious person as well, so I was inspired by him.”
But perhaps not quite enough as Honda then took another job: a coaching role with Cambodia’s national team.
Quite what his job entails has yet to be defined. General manager seems to be the preferred title, although some parts of the Japanese media have him as “shadow coach” – the non-qualified player making the decisions behind the official boss Felix Gonzalez. After all, Honda has no coaching licences and is unpaid – otherwise he would be in violation of Asian Football Confederation regulations that prohibit anyone from earning two salaries from different member associations.
Yet on September 10, when Cambodia hosted Malaysia in Phnom Phen, it was Honda who seemed to be in the driving seat. In the pre-match press conference, there he was giving his thoughts on the approaching game, explaining: “I want to contribute all my experience to the Cambodian national team. My mission is to change Cambodian football right now... but of course that’s not easy.”
On the day of the game, Honda lined up in the coach’s position in the dugout. He was soon standing on the sideline, wearing a huge smile thanks to a stunning volley from Souey Visal that sent 50,000 fans wild – national-team attendances in the Cambodian capital are consistently impressive and passionate – and put the hosts ahead.
Cambodia, however, couldn’t keep Malaysia out and ended up losing 3-1.
“They did what was expected of them in the first 30 minutes, but improvements need to be made as a game lasts 90 minutes,” said the Cambodian “general manager” after the game. “I am to blame for the loss and will try to figure out why the team lost.”
He will be doing that on the long journey down under as he now focuses on his new club. Honda has said that he will head to Cambodia when his club schedule allows, but it remains to be seen how often that is.
The Australian A-League starts on October 20 – which is just five days after Cambodia are due to play Singapore, and it is unlikely that the Melbourne club will allow their main man to head north so close to the big kick-off.
Honda will also be busy in November when Cambodia participate in the 2018 AFF Championship, which is Southeast Asia’s biennial big bash and is a major deal in the region. There has been talk of him helping out remotely, although quite how that will work is unclear.
As is pretty much everything about the whole set-up...
Honda’s two hats could hardly be more different – and it looks like he is now going to need three watches. John Duerden
In charge... Keisuke Honda (second right) issues instructions during Cambodia’s friendly with Malaysia