Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Benvenuto Keisuke Honda


Welcoming a new player is usually exciting. Especially at a time when results have been so poor, and performances so unbelievably poor as well. It’s even more exciting when that player claims to have been a lifelong Milanista. But Honda is different. He is one of us. Well, if we were all as talented on the pitch as we are in our dreams, that is. And also really classy. And very fashionable. And really determined and disciplined. Okay, so maybe using “us” was not the best analogy. But unlike so many players who have a Milan scarf lying around from their childhood, Honda actually is a true Milanista. And that’s what makes his unveiling today that much more special.

Great fashion sense is just a bonus. As a true Milanista, he can be Emperor of my heart.


Galliani would have you believe that Honda being the first Japanese player to play for Milan is what makes him special. Or only the eighth Japanese player to ever play in Serie A. But that is just his tacky, unprofessional, money-grubbing blindness speaking. Where the rest of us see a fantastic player with amazing potential for Milan who also reportedly has a Milan Il Diavolo mascot tattoo, Galliani sees Japanese Yens as a new source of income. You know, since he’s pissed off all of the other ones. Yeah, Galliani, not only are ‘Kak√°’s Orphans’ every bit the bandwagoning, fickle bunch you told everyone they were, they also have something called self-respect, and they’re not going to hand over their hard-earned money when you insult them. So I hope you have your Japanese translators also prepared to filter out your insults if you want to fully exploit our newest player’s nationality as a marketing scheme and have those Yens to come pouring in.

European experience is just a bonus

But I digress, and it is a shame that a player with such class is stepping into this mess. Because Honda truly is a class act. He did everything he could to join Milan at the beginning of the season, but unable to convince CSKA Moscow to let him go, he honorably fulfilled his contract, scoring three goals and giving two assists along the way. He also could have gone to a club where he would have made more money, a club who was more likely to play in the Champions League next season (since he won’t be able to play for Milan in the Champions League in the Round of 16 this season.) But he didn’t. Even though at age 27, he cannot afford to take any gambles in his career, he went with his heart. He gave his word that he would join Milan when his contract was up, and he kept it.

Honda began his career in local youth teams in Japan and eventually played for Seiryo High School before joining his first professional club, Nagoya Grampus in 2005. Ironically, this club was founded as the company team for Toyota Motor Corporation, and they actually play some home games in Toyota Stadium. But Honda was always destined for more than just the J League. In 2008, he joined the Dutch Eredvisie team VVV-Venlo, where he scored 24 goals in 68 appearances over 2 years with the club. It is also reported that while he was in Holland, he would travel to Milano to the San Siro to watch Milan play, because he actually was a true fan of the club. After Venlo, he signed a four year contract with CSKA Moscow, where he scored 20 goals in 94 league appearances and scored some big goals for them in the Champions League while also becoming the first Japanese player to score in the knockout rounds.

A champion for club and country

But Galliani’s marketing greed aside, he is a national hero in Japan. In fact, he is known as “Emperor Keisuke” by Japanese fans. He made one appearance for the Japanese U20 team but then was a regular for the U23 team, scoring 5 goals in 18 appearances and playing in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Since 2008, he has represented Japan’s national team 52 times, scoring 20 goals. During that time, he represented Japan at the 2010 World Cup, scoring crucial goals and earning multiple Man of the Match awards. In the 2011 Asian Cup, he was named the most valuable player of the Asian Cup that year as Japan won the title. More recently, Japan fell to Italy in the Confederations Cup in Brazil, but his new Italy national and Milan teammates will remember him well from that match, as he caused all kinds of trouble for them and scored a penalty before losing 4-3 to the Italians.

Honda seems to have some marketing prowess of his own, as he has his own site, complete with a top 5 goals video. He should fit right in with other Milan players who also have distinctive and signature hairstyles, even if his fashion sense is more stylish and classic. And as an attacking midfielder who can also play as a second striker, or even as a deep-lying playmaker, he will be a welcome addition to the squad. When Allegri mentioned him and Birsa in the same sentence last week and the online fan collective went insane, I think Allegri was actually alluding to the fact that he is a dead-ball specialist, and that the only other player Milan currently has with that specific skillset is Birsa, not that they were on the same level. But it is Honda who will wear the number 10 for Milan, which will likely blissfully wash away the memories of its most recent owner before him. And his discipline and focus and drive are already inspirational, even if he’s not even trained with the squad as of this writing.

He wears the colors on the outside and on the inside

While Honda is clearly a world class player who has played on the biggest stage, and has European experience, too, for me, it is his Rossonero heart that makes him so special. He truly loves the club, will treat the jersey with the reverence of past Milan legends, and understands what it is to be a Milan fan, because he is one. Sure, it will be great to learn more from him about Japanese culture, and fun to see pics of him in Milano with his wife and son with his great sense of style. But when he takes the pitch for Milan, he will carry with him the hopes and dreams of all Milanisti as a true fan. And that, Mr. Galliani, is what this club needs more of: heart. Whatever happens to Milan while Honda is here, however his performances go, he is one of us, a true Rossonero. Benvenuto, Honda.


This post inspired by the music of The Vapors


Our next match is
Sassuolo vs. Milan
Sunday, January 12 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)