Keisuke Honda

Ja­pan ace takes on two roles…in Aus­tralia and Cam­bo­dia

World Soccer - - Contents -

“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

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