Why Could Honda not Raise his Game at Club Level?

Since he arrived on the professional scene with Nagoya Grampus Eight in 2004, Keisuke Honda has been one of the most talented players to have emerged from Japan to play the beautiful game. Honda has produced some downright breath-taking moments on the football pitch at a domestic and international level. However, he was never able to translate his form into a sustained period of success at one team. Why is that?

Keisuke Honda (left) plying his trade with Russian team CSKA Moscow

Keisuke Honda (left) plying his trade with Russian team CSKA Moscow

Honda had the talent to play at an elite league in the prime of his career, but he had issues with consistency, despite his moments of brilliance. At the age of 33, he is without a club following a failed spell with Vitesse Arnhem in the 2019/20 season, making only four appearances. In his most recent campaign, Honda played for the entire term with the Melbourne Victory in the Australian A-League. The midfielder was a key part of the team, scoring seven goals in his 18 games.

But he opted not to re-sign with the Victory even though they were competitive in the campaign, finishing third in the table and winning the Elimination Finals before being hammered by the eventual A-League champions Sydney FC in the Semi-Finals. Melbourne are not missing Honda a great deal this season and are on course to at least reach the Finals, where they are backed at 5/6 in the A-League betting odds to finish in the top six.

It has been the case wherever Honda has been at his career that he has not been able to enjoy the ultimate success. After a few years at Grampus, he earned a move to VVV Velno, a lesser-known team but in the Dutch top division. He stayed only one season before moving on again.

His best seasons arguably came with CSKA Moscow where he spent four years as an influential player in the heart of the Russian outfit's midfield. Honda's best campaign came in the 2011/12 season where he scored eight goals in 25 appearances, although the club were unable to win the Russian Premier League, while exiting the Champions League in the first knockout round. However, he was also impressive during their run to the Russian Premier League crown in the following season, notching seven goals in the process.

Honda's form - for club but even more so for country - saw him rewarded with a move to Italian powerhouse AC Milan. But the move came at the wrong time, with the Rossoneri becoming a fading force in Italian football. He spent four seasons at San Siro before moving to Mexico and then on to the Victory, where the standard of competition was not quite up to the standard for Honda to be able to compete at the peak of his powers.

The midfielder has been at his best with the Blue Samurai, representing his nation. He was one of the driving forces in Japan's win in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, being named the MVP of the tournament. He has also been one of their standouts during his three appearances in the World Cup – notably playing a standout role in the 2010 tournament, against Denmark when he found the net with a magnificent free-kick and created another goal for Shinji Okazaki in a 3-1 victory and again against Cameroon, when he scored the winner.

Honda displayed his ability to thrive on the world stage again at the 2014 World Cup, scoring in a defeat to Ivory Coast and becoming the first Japanese player to score in two World Cups. He made it three World Cups on the bounce by notching a strike against Senegal in Russia in 2018, further enhancing his reputation before retiring from the international stage.

Occasionally a player becomes a different animal when they play for one team rather than another. No man epitomised the cliche more than Honda, who could never raise his game to its peak outside of wearing the blue of Japan.

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