Not long after Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda joined the Melbourne Victory, he mentioned at the A-League season launch that “I’ve made people disappointed, I’ve made people happy … I don’t have any magic.”
Seven games into the season, the 32-year Honda is providing plenty of spark and experience for the second-place Victory, and, despite his comments, a bit of magic and passion for his team and A-League fans.
Honda, who scored 32 goals in 98 games for his national team, retired from international play after the World Cup this year when Japan lost to Belgium in the knockout stage. He was signed as the Victory’s marquee player, meaning his contract was outside the team’s salary cap.
So far, he’s been worth whatever money he is earning.
Honda has played in every minute of each of the seven games and scored four of the defending champion Victory’s 16 goals in the season so far. Even more, he appears to be a driving force on and off the field.
On Wednesday, Honda was selected by Professional Footballers Australia as the men’s player of the month.
He was taken aback when PFA representative Simon Colosimo visited a Victory practice session to make the announcement, but Honda responded in his usual humble way.
“I’m surprised,” Honda said. “I’m happy to receive the award but I am happy more when we win as a team. I appreciate the award and I received it because of my teammates.”
After the Victory beat Western Sydney Wanderers 4-0 on Dec. 1, when Honda opened the scoring in the 11th minute, the Japanese veteran thought there was still room for improvement.
“I’m not satisfied yet, we also made mistakes,” Honda told a local television reporter after the match. “We should not have been satisfied that we were four goals up. Football is entertainment, and our supporters want a full 90 minutes.”
Soon after, a person tweeted: “Rumor has it there’s a 99% chance you’ll fall in love with Keisuke Honda if you watch this interview.”
Another fan responded: “Only 99 percent?” Another added: “Honest, humble and a fan pleaser to the max. Not much to dislike.”
And an American soccer fan posted on Twitter: “We really missed out on getting this guy in MLS.”
His teammates are equally as impressed.
Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas told local media that Honda approached him a month ago with an offer for some advice.
“I think it was maybe the third or fourth round, he came to me after training, maybe two days after a game, and said, `Lawrence, I want to meet you after training and go through some of your options with playing out from the back.’
“We stayed behind for an hour and he talked me through some of the options I should be looking for, what to play. He just has a real passion for the game and he’s incredibly disciplined. I think everyone in the club can pick his brain a bit and really learn how to get to that top level.”
Honda’s English in that TV interview after the 4-0 win was getting close to perfect, and Thomas revealed why.
“I asked him how his English has improved so quickly and he said he wakes up at 5 a.m. and does two hours of English,” Thomas said. “He could probably write a better essay or speech than I can. The day after the game, he comes and does his stuff. I don’t think you get to that level of what he’s done without being consistent and having pride in what you do.”
Thomas said that kind of respect for the game rubs off on the whole team.
“It sets a great example for the young boys and for myself as well,” Thomas said. “He gives his feedback when needed … because he’s played at such a high level.”
Honda and another key 2018-19 signing, 64-cap Swedish international Ola Toivonen, will lead the Victory, who trail first-place Perth by two points and are on a five-match winning streak, into Friday’s match against the Brisbane Roar.