How Honda could drive Sydney and Victory to Asian glory
After one of the most nail-biting deciders in A-League history, both Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory will now hope to turn their domestic success into AFC Champions League glory, and there’s one player who can help them achieve just that – Keisuke Honda.
9 MAY 2017 - 7:31 PM UPDATED YESTERDAY 7:31 PM
The enigmatic Japanese midfielder is on the outer at AC Milan, where he has played just 98 minutes in six appearances this season, and will almost certainly leave the Italian giants at the end of the season.
The big question is where does the 30-year-old go from here?
Most likely is a move to Major League Soccer, while joining Chinese side Shanghai SIPG has also been rumoured, as has a return to Japan.
If A-League clubs want genuine marquee players, then they have to throw their hat in the ring.
“Impossible” some will say. The same was said with Alessandro Del Piero. You never know if you don’t ask.
If Sydney and the Victory, two clubs who have long stated they want to be among the biggest clubs and ‘brands’ in Asia, are serious about that ambition then signing Honda would be a big step in the right direction.
While his on-field form may have dipped for club and country in the last 12 to 18 months, his talent is unquestionable, and off the field he is the most marketable player in Asia.
The benefits he would provide in terms of sponsorship, promotion and visibility in Asia would be invaluable.
Think David Beckham at LA Galaxy, Del Piero at Sydney FC. Honda would do the same for either club in Asia, particularly in Japan.
While the benefits off the field are important, let’s not forget his talent on it. He is one of the best players Japan has produced.
Australian fans have seen his skill up close many times before, when the Socceroos have taken on the Samurai Blue - their most recent meeting a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier last October in Melbourne.
While he prefers to play centrally as a number ten, from where he can control the attack and break open defences, he has shown for Japan he can play out wide, or even at the point of the attack.
He’s also not bad from the set piece. Who could forget his stunner against Denmark at the World Cup in 2010? Or his long-range effort against Valencia, albeit in a pre-season friendly, for AC Milan in 2014?
He would be an asset to any team - even more so given he would fill the plus one role when it comes to the AFC Champions League (ACL).
Both Graham Arnold and Kevin Muscat had to make the difficult decision to cut two players from their ACL squads in 2016. Having Honda makes the decision slightly easier and gives them more options and flexibility with their squad.
The idea of signing Honda doesn’t need selling - the only question is whether the clubs are brave enough to try.