AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: A look at Keisuke Honda’s first game in charge of Cambodia


Much was said about Cambodia’s new manager Keisuke Honda when the announcement was made official earlier this year. But the Japan legend had a debut to forget in his first competitive game on the touchline for the Southeast Asian nation. 

After all, it was one of the few times that there was a player-manager taking the reins at an international team, and nobody really knew what to expect. The decision by Honda to take the job was an ambitious one in itself, considering the fact that he is still an active footballer at club level and even represented his country at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The 32-year-old made the decision to become a manager around the same time he decided to continue his playing career at club level with A-League side Melbourne Victory, and in just a few games there, has already shown his class with two goals.

There is no doubt that Honda brings with him years of experience at the top level of professional football, owing to his exploits early on in his career at the likes of CSKA Moscow and AC Milan. It was in Moscow that the Japanese really came into the limelight, and made an instant impact in the Champions League. From this point on he wasn’t just Keisuke anymore, but “Emperor Keisuke” in the eyes of his fans.

His 20 goals at CSKA may have been impressive, but his ability to lead a fairly inexperienced Japanese unit with so much maturity at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa is even more commendable, and his contribution to the Blue Samurais in that particular tournament is one that his people will never forget.

Honda played at AC Milan for a considerable amount of time as well, and while he may have wanted to contribute a bit more than he did to the Rossoneri, there was enough evidence of his talent there to deem him a true icon of Japanese football. At a young age, there wasn’t much left for the forward to conquer.

Or was there? At 32, Honda is among the youngest managers to ever set foot on the touchline, and one has to appreciate his courage in taking up management when he has. Cambodia have been struggling for leadership as of late, and need the right kind of man-management to ensure their star players, such as upcoming talent Chan Vathanaka, fulfill their potential.

Honda may have missed his side’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Malaysia in the first game of the AFF Suzuki Cup, but he was more than willing to be a part of their second clash of the campaign, a game against in-form Myanmar.

Despite scoring early, Cambodia couldn’t keep the pressure on come the second half, and a forced change up top made all the difference. Chan Vathanaka had scored the opening goal of the game, but had to be taken off in the 46th minute, throwing the Cambodian system all out of whack and giving Myanmar a route back into the game.

A flustered Honda looked on as his opponents mounted attack after attack and eventually ended up scoring four goals, making this one of the heaviest defeats for the Cambodians.

You can’t help but feel for Honda, who is only just trying to figure out the best combination of players in his squad, but there is no doubt that he must take a defeat like this on the chin and look ahead to what is in store. Group A still has plenty to play for, and Cambodia need to do all they can if they are to have any chance of making it through.

So, all in all, not a very happy first day at the office for manager Keisuke Honda, but if that first half display was anything to go by, do not write off the “Emperor” just yet.