Return of the Player-Manager: Keisuke Honda
Australia's A-League is rapidly becoming an exciting place to be, with several key arrivals. This season is certainly not going under the radar anymore. Honda takes his place amongst the side and undoubtedly will become a star player for Melbourne Victory.
However, as well as joining the Austrailian outfit he’s also actually going to manage… the national team of Cambodia. It may appear to be fabricated nonsense you’d expect from a FIFA career mode or maybe a football manager career arc, I can assure you this is real.
Honda isn’t a Japanese footballer. He’s a true Japanese soccer deity. Yes, others come before him, the attacking-mid, he’s broken the traditional mould and made his own rules throughout his career.
His track hasn’t followed the conventional route. Untroubled by culture shock and abnormalities which may swerve many Japanese players careers, Honda’s played in Russia, Italy, and Mexico in the past. He’s never turned away from a challenge or to move somewhere new, he’s moving to Australian/Cambodian shores for these new ambitions.
Well, not so much Cambodian shores. You see, his role with Melbourne Victory as a player seems it will take slight priority. In the fact he will conduct most managing seminars via online video chats; meaning he won’t actually leave Australia so often. He will leave for FIFA sanctioned international breaks exclusively; much like international players. Given Cambodia’s lowly status in both world and continental football, it means they play in less formal competitions which run concurrently with the A-League season. One example is the AFF Cup this November.
Double-duty, perhaps? “Listen, Muscat, do you mind benching me today? I need to Skype my team before their big game against Vietnam. In fact, do I need to play at all? I want to micro-manage the team from my apartment.”; all the while he is actually holding a plane ticket to Phnom Penh in his back pocket. Honda, since then went on record and said Victory will come first. Words often turn colour when situations change. After all, footballers say many things.
Why Australia? The media reported that Honda was considering retirement - but Melbourne Victory convinced him to keep playing. With so many young Mexican players going to Europe these days, it’s a fair theory that Liga MX was too fast for a 32-year-old Honda.
What opportunities await him? Well, study his career. He’s incredibly versatile. He’s made a living from being a resourceful player; as well as fitting in any situation, he’s made it apparent on and off the pitch. He can play on the wing, in a centre-forward role as well as a deep-lying mid.
He’s joining Melbourne Victory, last years champions. He comes in as the club have already lost two key attacking players from the prior season. Sanchez went home to Argentina, whether as Berisha joined Sanfrecce Hiroshima, in Japan ironically. He can’t replace both players, he can certainly pick up a lot of the slack left by the void from the exodus from the Argentine and the Kosovan.
At present, there’s no real like-for-like replacement for the aforementioned Berisha. Whoever takes up the reigns at the top - Honda will be ready to work with him; as he’s developed a knack for creating opportunities for the strikers around him. He’s always assisting and getting his team forward.
This is Honda’s first coaching job. There’s no barometer to tell how well he will do and given the circumstances; the dial is completely off. The sensors can’t be controlled, they’ve come across unknown dark matter; previously unexecuted behaviour from the Japanese international sent the system working into overdrive.
Drawing from Honda’s prior international experience and personality. He’s a fiery chap who is direct and to the point. He took no time in telling the media what he thought to Halilhodzic’s departure, stating he and the coach never saw eye-to-eye. He went on to be critical and announced he never liked his football. It’s very likely he will bring this fiery demeanour to his management career and he alienates a few people in the long-term project, in creating a perfect Cambodian side in his image.
It’s also worth time to consider the awesome effect that Honda brings when simply putting his name on a project. Japan follows Japan. This is a country which broadcasts highlight shows of Japanese players playing overseas, exclusively. Japan is being united in supporting Honda overseas. Japanese sports stores stocked Pachuca goods because of Honda’s involvement last year, expect the same kind of merchandise pop up from Melbourne Victory and the Cambodian national team (hmmm, less likely) as the Pachuca stuff disintegrates. The Australian club, at least, can expect an influx of Japanese supporters to start following the club as his arrival at the club signals a relevance to a wider audience.
Honda is set to be truly become the apex-player-manager; even if he isn’t playing for Real Madrid and managing Barcelona this is truly the closest thing to it. Gone are the days of the football league journeyman subbing himself on; Honda marks a new generation of player-manager. Who and what is next? Peter Crouch to turn out for Stoke and manage Kosovo? Keep your eyes peeled!