SAITAMA - Japan international Keisuke Honda on Tuesday slammed AC Milan supporters as being fair-weather fans, saying their ruthlessness is not helping the storied club turn its fortunes around.
Honda, back with the national team for the World Cup qualifiers against Iraq and Australia, two games that could determine the fate of Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic, has made just two Serie A appearances off the bench for Milan this season under yet another new manager in Vincenzo Montella.
Honda pointed out that while fans in Japan help their teams through thick and thin — as he expects them to do on Thursday against Iraq — Milan supporters, whose club is already a third of the way down the table in sixth, are not doing the seven-time European champions any good by recognizing wins and only wins.
“In Japan, there’s basically no booing,” Honda said after training on Tuesday that involved just jogging with fellow Milan-based teammate Yuto Nagatomo, who plays for Inter.
“In Milan, I think there’s far too much of it. What’s really wrong in Milan is that when you’re down during a game, they just completely abandon you. I feel absolutely no love. But as soon as you start winning, they treat you like family.
“So what’s it about to them, just numbers and winning or losing? I think it’s part of the reason not only Milan but the Italian national side, too, is in the situation they’re in. They’ve been obsessed with only results and that approach might work if you have the talent and can cope with the pressure.
“But if you don’t and you’re trying to break ground, that kind of attitude won’t cut it. If that’s the attitude, then all you’re doing is waiting for the next (Paolo) Maldini or (Gennaro) Gattuso to arrive. If you’re trying to turn a corner working with what you’ve got, you can’t simply push the team away and berate the players.
Honda said there is a vast difference in the atmosphere during matches in Japan and Italy.
“There’s no comparing the atmosphere at the stadiums in Japan and Italy; it’s night and day,” he said. “The fans here are kind, and the ground isn’t filled from top to bottom with people who are absolutely dying to watch football. Many of them support the flag, the way people do for the Olympics.
“So for fans like them, it could be rugby or volleyball that they watch. What’s important to them is that Japan wins, that their team plays hard. So when I play in Japan, I feel like I’m playing for my country more than I am for a football side.”
Japan is third in the Asian zone’s Group B behind Australia, who it faces in Melbourne on Oct. 11, and Saudi Arabia after losing to the United Arab Emirates at home and beating Thailand away its first two times out in the final qualifying round.
While Halilhodzic’s men still have eight matches ahead of them, failing to win again at home on Thursday will put Japan’s chances of qualifying for Russia in legitimate peril, something the team has managed to avoid since making its first World Cup appearance in 1998.
Honda — who dismissed the thought that the players are thinking about a possible coaching change depending on the results of the upcoming two games — admitted that not playing regularly for Milan will have some impact on his form.
But more than that, the two-time World Cup star is eager to get a run out against Iraq before another sellout crowd at Saitama Stadium.
“It’s my first match in a while so I’m looking forward to it. I want to enjoy the Iraq and Australia games and I hope we can produce the results we’re looking for,” he said.
“I’d be lying if I said my game instincts haven’t been affected at all. But it’s up to me to play with a sense of urgency and prove to people that they have nothing to worry about.
“There’s always pressure during the final qualifiers, just as there is at the World Cup. In some ways, there’s less pressure at the World Cup. First, you have to get there which is why there’s all this pressure on us now.
“To me, this isn’t pressure at all. I’m just looking forward to my first game in a while.”