Growing up in Osaka, Keisuke Honda dreamed of signing with AC Milan and wearing the No. 10 for the Rossoneri, a dream the Japan international has managed to realize.
But two years after arriving at the San Siro to huge fanfare and massive expectations, Honda concedes his time in Milan has been anything but dreamy.
“I admit, the picture I had in my mind isn’t quite like how things have turned out for me,” Honda said in a recent interview with Kyodo News at the plush Bulgari Hotel in Milan, Italy.
“But I’m not that taken back by it because it’s not the first time I’ve encountered the unexpected in my life. Looking ahead to the future, this kind of experience will be good for me so I’m soaking everything up in the most positive way imaginable.”
Despite only transferring from CSKA Moscow in January 2014, Honda is already playing for his fourth manager at Milan, with Sinisa Mihajlovic now in charge after Massimiliano Allegri, Clarence Seedorf and Filipo Inzaghi all got the ax.
Honda’s second full campaign in the Italian league has been trying; he has just one goal in a scant 15 appearances in the league and league cup, and the team is stuck in sixth place, eight points off the pace of crosstown rival Inter Milan.
Honda, though, remains unfazed by the struggles, explaining the problems at Milan are deep-rooted and that no one single signing — not even his own — can help revive the seven-time European champions.
“Milan were in a tough spot when I signed so I knew what I was getting into,” he said. “Allegri was the one who wanted to sign me but by then the situation started getting really ugly. I came here with the hope I might be able to help turn things around, but then the managers started getting sacked and as a result, Milan have been on a difficult path for the last two-and-a-half, three years.
“But the winning pedigree is still strong at this club and very few teams around the world have this kind of blood. We have potential but whether we can get back on our feet while I’m here is another matter. We’re no longer in a position where we can sign someone and hope that he alone can fix it.
“I mean, who have we signed the last three years? There was Kaka, Robinho, (Mario) Balotelli, and Fernando Torres, who is playing great for Atletico (Madrid) now. People don’t seem to notice those things. Who else? (Sulley) Muntari, (Michael) Essien. We’ve had some really good players come through here.”
During his tumultuous time in Milan, Honda, who is nearing veteran status as he turns 30 in June, has added a new description to his CV as de facto owner of Austrian third division outfit SV Horn, a purchase his representative firm made this past summer.
Honda’s goals for Horn are nothing short of ambitious — promotion to Austria’s top flight in three years, and qualification for the Champions League in five. But one should expect nothing less from a man who says Japan’s goal at a World Cup should be to win it all, no exceptions.
Honda insists club ownership is not a casual venture to spend his millions on, and that he is committed to Horn for the long haul. Honda signed his first Japanese player after holding an open tryout in July, a pint-sized striker named Shota Sakaki from Consadole Sapporo of the J. League second division. Going into the winter break, Horn was on top of the table.
When he’s not on the pitch, the two-time World Cup star describes himself as restless, constantly seeking new business opportunities to expand his horizons.
“I’d love to be able to stay away from my phone for a week, but I can’t,” he said. “I must be suffering from some illness.”
Once his playing days are behind him — whenever that may be — Honda hasn’t ruled out a coaching career on top of his administrative duties at Horn.
“What I’m experiencing now, this will help me at Horn,” Honda said. “I look at Milan and where we are from the view of management, from the view of a coach. I’m not at Milan just as a player; I play but I’ve also analyzed and observed the club from a number of angles.
“The most important thing I’ve learned in running a club is that you cannot let up. I imagine it’s drastically different to management in the corporate sector. Things change a lot from week to week; you could be doing great one week and hit rock bottom the next.
“What I can say for sure is I want to continue to be an owner. I feel like I can bring something new to the table in the way owners work with coaches and players. You never know what can happen in the world of football.
“But first and foremost, I want to achieve my goal as an owner and if at some point the opportunity comes around, then I’ll think about coaching. It’s an extremely intriguing job.”