What next for Keisuke Honda?

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden takes a look at some Asian options for Keisuke Honda after the Japanese star leaves Mexican club Pachuca.

Keisuke Honda has announced that he is looking to leave Pachuca at the end of the season. The 32 year-old headed to Europe in the previous decade and after spells in the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and now Mexico is ready for a new challenge.

Plenty of clubs around the world will be interested in the Japanese international but five Asian leagues would especially benefit from his presence.

1: Thailand
Southeast Asia’s number one league has plenty of going for it. Not only is it sending clubs into the latter stages of the AFC Champions League on a regular basis it is home to some of the biggest stars in ASEAN football.

Honda, with his profile and skills, would bring something else. There have been plenty of East Asian players to head to Thailand but none of Honda’s stature. The former AC Milan man would be the biggest name in Thailand, indeed the whole of Southeast Asia, and could help a team like Muangthong, Buriram or one of the Bangkok clubs move to the next level.

And with the J.League and Japanese football in general looking to increase popularity, and ultimately, revenue from Southeast Asia, having Honda in the Land of Smiles would go down very well indeed.

2: China
In terms of football adventures, China offers plenty. It is not just about the money that is flowing through the game in the Middle Kingdom but just the opportunity to experience a rich and vibrant culture could well be something that would appeal to the Emperor.

There is also the political aspect. It is no secret that the relationship between China and Japan is cooler than Mount Fuji in January. There have been precious few football exchanges between these two powers. Honda’s former national team coach Takeshi Okada spent some time there after the successful 2010 World Cup but it did not open any floodgates.

With all the stars playing in the Chinese Super League at the moment, Honda would certainly be surrounded by some top-class players and if he can help create some positive Japanese-related headlines in the Chinese media then that would be a worthy achievement.

3: The Philippines
Now, if Keisuke Honda really wanted to try something new then he should look no further than the Philippines. In some ways, football in a country that has been traditionally been much more interested in basketball is booming. The national team has just qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup for the first time in their history (the women’s team also came within 90 minutes of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup) and the clubs have been performing well in the AFC Cup.

The domestic league has issues however. The Philippines Football League is in its second season and the teething issues have been painful with two of the original eight dropping out. To have a star like Honda arrive would do wonders for the profile of the league and may get a few corporations checking their sponsorship budgets. If Honda is looking for a legacy then the Philippines may just fit the bill.

4: Saudi Arabia
West Asia should not be neglected either. There is a push in the Saudi Premier League to get a few more big name players through the arrivals gate at airports in Jeddah and Riyadh. Brazilian striker Falcao was recently linked with a move to Al Hilal and with the likes of Syrian star strikers Omar Al Somah and Omar Khribin, there is no shortage of Asian attacking talent.

The money is there for one of the big clubs such as Al Hilal, Ahli and Al Ittihad to splash the cash on one of Asia’s biggest names.

5: South Korea
Perhaps there is no Asian professional league that could do with a sprinkling of the star power than the oldest. The K-League has serious problems and never in its 35-year history has interest and attendances been so low. Officials are at a loss as to what to do.

Honda would not solve everything but would give the headline writers something positive to write about and give the league a greater profile at home –overseas can wait.

While Japan and Korea are often bitter rivals on and off the pitch, Honda is actually quite well thought of in the Land of the Morning calm. In various spats between the two countries over the years, his comments have not always followed the usual national line. There have been quite a few Japanese players in the league over the years and culturally, it is the closest Honda can get to going home without actually going home.

There is little money in the league these days but there are one or two clubs that could be persuaded to amass the necessary funds if the players is willing. That is going to be quite an ‘if’ but Keisuke Honda would be the big star in one of Asia’s top leagues.

Where do you think Honda should ply his trade next?