Keisuke Honda is on the brink of signing for the Melbourne Victory in a $2.9 million deal, in the A-League’s most high-profile signing since the acquisition of David Villa on a short-term loan.
So who is the Japanese superstar, what’s the background to the deal, and, most importantly, what can he bring to the A-League?
From a player’s point of view – a lot. Anyone who’s won championships in Russia and played at giants like AC Milan has to be a top-class operator. For his native Japan, Honda – a tormentor of the Socceroos in past matches – can play either out on the wing or as a number 10 slotted behind the striker.
With a wand of a left foot, Honda is arguably at his most dangerous from a dead ball, with his pinpoint deliveries making his crosses or shots a deadly weapon for whomever he lines up for.
Chris Glassock of ABC Grandstand believes he will bring a lot of quality to the A-League, with his technical ability already well known throughout the competition.
“He’s an excellent player, and he’s a great playmaker and certainly those at the Melbourne Victory will learn a lot off him,” says Glassock.
⚽ Goal of the Day 💥 Honda’s last cracking free-kick and goal at San Siro 🎌 #HBD, @kskgroup2017 🎉 L’ultimo gol a San Siro con una punizione magistrale 🏟 Tanti auguri, 本田圭佑 🇯🇵🎈 pic.twitter.com/B4JaPFGphY
— AC Milan (@acmilan) June 13, 2018
But what will he bring to the A-League commercially? The competition has been without multiple big-name stars since the days of Emile Heskey at Newcastle and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero at Sydney. However, with Honda’s arrival and the pursuit (albeit unsuccessful) of Spanish superstars Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres, those days may be about to return.
Glassock, though, says he’s unsure whether Honda quite matches up to these European legends, in terms of commercial appeal at least. “It’s not the same as the Del Piero signing, which I think was more of a glamour signing. But again, the A-League’s desperate for any stars.”
As a player, Honda’s quality can’t be doubted. With 92 appearances for seven-time European Champions AC Milan, as well as three Champions League campaigns with Russian giants CSKA Moscow, he has played at the highest possible level.
Glassock cites his displays against the Australian team. “He’s terrorised the Socceroos as well, and that can’t be forgotten. Every time the Socceroos played against him, his technical ability was clear. He’s clearly their [Japan’s] best player much of the time.”
The reality that may block the influx of foreign stars into the A-League is its financial limitations compared to foreign rivals. They include the Chinese Super League, which according to Forbes houses three of the 15 highest-paid players in the world: Brazilian attackers Hulk and Oscar and Italian striker Graziano Pelle.
Glassock says that, for soccer players, the beach lifestyle and relative anonymity of Australia are a big drawcard for overseas talent.
Done deal for Honda! Still working on Maclaren. via @lewieatlarge #SBSTheWorldGamehttps://t.co/1DxmVOu7Sb
— SBS – The World Game (@TheWorldGame) 31 July 2018
“The FFA’s being very strategic about how it sells itself to foreign players. It knows it hasn’t got the money that the Chinese have got to throw around, and the J-League has got to throw around, but very much [it can sell] on the lifestyle angle.”
Although a deal has not yet been signed, a formal announcement of Honda’s move is expected imminently. If it does go through, A-League fans can look forward to a top-class playmaker, and it is hoped he will be the first of a new crop of high-quality imports. – @maxgay93