Honda shrugs off Milan transfer saga, keeps options open

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Japan forward Keisuke Honda insists he remains as focused as ever despite missing out on a transfer to AC Milan last week, and denies a January switch to the Italian powerhouse is a foregone conclusion.

Honda, who scored Japan’s third goal in a 3-1 friendly win over Ghana in Yokohama on Tuesday night, looked set for a summer move to Milan with only four months left to run on his contract with Russian side CSKA Moscow.

A late complication scuppered the deal before last Monday’s transfer deadline and forced Honda to stay put until he becomes a free agent in January, but the 27-year-old is keeping his options open and revealed he may not end up at the San Siro when the window reopens.

“I don’t think about the future,” Honda told The Japan Times after Tuesday’s match, which saw him score for Japan for a third game running. “I just need to focus for the championship of Russia and the Champions League, so I don’t want to talk about this.

“I will think in December or January about that (a new club). I need a challenge. I think I have many choices in the winter, but I want to compare as many clubs as I can.”

Honda ruled out signing a new deal in Moscow, and insists being ineligible to play for another team in the Champions League this season will not affect his choice of club.

“I don’t think about that,” he said. “I just need to play now. If I can’t play after January, why not? I have to focus only on the league.”

Honda secured Japan’s win over Ghana with a header in the 72nd minute, capping a fightback from the hosts after goals from Shinji Kagawa and Yasuhito Endo had cancelled out Frank Acheampong’s 24th-minute opener.

“It’s been a while since we came back from a goal down to win a game,” said Japan captain Makoto Hasebe. “It’s good that we won, but if you look at the game as a whole, Ghana were strong in the first half.

“We made some good chances but we couldn’t take them and they scored from one chance on the counterattack. Ghana tired in the second half, and it was good that we managed to score three goals. But we still have to work on our game plan.”

Tuesday’s win followed up a 3-0 victory over Guatemala last Friday, and Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni was satisfied with his team’s performances having lost 4-2 to Uruguay in a friendly last month.

“It’s different when we have the time to prepare, and we did have that this time,” said Zaccheroni. “We managed to arrange the team better and the results were different.

“We were much tighter and more aggressive in the middle, and there was higher intensity in attack. You saw this in the Guatemala game but it was even better tonight. We were playing against a strong opponent and we were better in every department.”

Manchester United star Kagawa made his mark after enduring a frustrating start to the Premier League season, drilling home a shot from the edge of the box five minutes into the second half before Endo hit the target from distance in the 64th minute.

“The individuals did very well today,” said Zaccheroni. “I want the individuals to do more and more. The whole point of systematic football is to make it easier for the individuals to have a go.

“Football can’t be won only by collective power, and it also can’t be won only by individuals. We really need both, and the issue is how to bring the best out of the individuals. My football won’t work without quality.”