MILAN, ITALY – Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda pledged to bring his own brand of samurai fighting spirit to AC Milan during his official unveiling by the Serie A giants on Wednesday.
Honda joined Milan on a three-year deal on a free transfer from CSKA Moscow following a four-year spell with the Russian Premier League club.
Milan, for the second successive season, has struggled to keep pace with the Serie A pacesetters and currently sit in 11th, 27 points off the pace of leader Juventus and 17 behind the last Champions League qualifying spot.
However, the Japan international, described in the club’s official presentation as part of a “new breed of bolder Japanese players,” has pledged to do his best in helping Milan overcome its difficult period.
“I’ve never met a samurai . . . but Japanese men are known for never giving up,” Honda told a packed press conference at the club’s San Siro stadium. “We have a strong mentality and good discipline, so I hope I can show that kind of spirit on the pitch.
“I have to train hard, from today. I feel a lot is expected of me here so I know I have to show what I can do. I will do my best, and I will give some special things to the team.”
Honda, who becomes the club’s first Japanese player, has been handed the No. 10 shirt worn in the past by stars like Ruud Gullit, Dejan Savicevic, Zvonimir Boban, Rui Costa and Clarence Seedorf, among others.
Club CEO Adriano Galliani said it was “only natural” to think of bestowing it on Honda following the August departure of former wearer, Ghanaian Kevin Prince Boateng, to the German Bundesliga.
“When Boateng left the club in August, we didn’t think twice about who we would give it to,” said Galliani, who had agreed terms with the player months before his departure from Russia. “Former Ballon d’Or winners at Milan, like Gianni Rivera and Ruud Gullit, have worn it and it has also been on the shoulders of great players like Savicevic, Boban, Rui Costa and Seedorf.
“Keisuke is the first Japanese player to wear the Rossonero (red and black) shirt of our club and we want to give him a warm welcome here.”
Known for his dribbling, goalscoring and dead ball skills, Honda could, in theory, provide the spark to an offensive line that has scored only 28 goals in 18 games so far this season.
Honda — who was unhappy initially at CSKA because he was played out of position — said he is itching to play in his preferred role just behind the strikers.
Ideally, he would play just behind Italy striker Mario Balotelli and Brazilian forward Kaka, who together have scored 11 of Milan’s league goals this season.
“I can play every position but if I have the choice, I would play behind the strikers. That is my favorite position,” said Honda.
“I just need to score and provide assists. I think that the team is not so bad. I just watched the game (a 3-0 win over Atalanta) two days ago, but I know we can probably improve.”
The jury is out on whether Milan can overcome its deficit to third-placed Napoli to clinch a place in next season’s Champions League.
This season, the Rossoneri remain Italy’s only club in the last 16 knockout phase, although Honda will play no further part having already featured in the competition for CSKA Moscow.