How Honda's arrival can kick-start the A-League once more

The signing of Keisuke Honda will be one of the most symbolic days in A-League history.

Melbourne Victory Keisuke Honda A-League

Keisuke Honda Source: Getty Images

Why so important? Because the A-League remains stuck in a quagmire that gets thicker by the day.

And as we all take our eyes off the pitch – yet again – we are losing focus on the playing of the game itself. A second season in the swamp could cause indeterminable damage.

Even on his $2.9 million salary, Honda alone cannot solve all the game's ills, nor satisfy every stakeholder (and deliver a working congress model, while we're at it). That's not the point.

The point is that one of the clubs, Melbourne Victory – who have collectively shied away from discretionary spending until they are given a say in the running of the sport – are prepared to start investing again in getting the turnstiles ticking.

Thank goodness. Everyone who likes football will want a look at this guy.

The deal hasn't been confirmed by the Victory as yet, so we must be patient. But the domestic game needs it to happen like never before.

He's so much more than an ordinary marquee player.

First things first: the A-League has never pulled a superstar in the absolute prime of his career.

But Honda was playing for AC Milan, still one of Europe's elite, just over 12 months ago. It's as close as you can get.

In the past year, he hit 10 goals and added seven assists in 29 league games in Liga MX, one of the world's most underrated competitions.

Intensely competitive, it is also vastly superior to the A-League.

In any event, it will be decades before a true superstar comes to Australia in his prime: the fame and fortune of Europe, Asia and North America, aided to a flailing dollar, has taken the A-League off the radar of most.

But having just turned 32, Honda is still close enough to the peak of the mountain.
For comparison, Dwight Yorke was 34 and Alessandro Del Piero turned 38 weeks after his debut. It's an enormous difference. Whatever the cost, he'll be absolutely worth it.

It won't be champagne and cigars from day one. What makes Honda such a good player, his individual brilliance, is matched by supreme self-belief.

While he's arguably the most technically gifted Asian player of his generation, he certainly knows it. He won't tolerate sub-par performances in those around him.

Melbourne Victory will be in for a shock when Honda's full entourage arrives, which might as well be out of the TV show of the same name.

He reportedly brought his own private coach, physician, cook and agent with him to Mexico. Not even Del Piero and Yorke asked as much of Sydney FC.

He may also take a little time to get going. At Pachuca, he understandably struggled to find his best form as he adjusted to a new country, language and way of playing.

But once he did, he was close to unstoppable. Patience may be required – although he should be full of confidence upon arrival, a contrast to how his time in Milan ended.

I have been a vocal critic of Australia's failure to engage in Asia and fervently believe the A-League must do more to attract Asian talent.

That should have been the legacy of Shinji Ono, and then the Asian Cup, but sadly the opposite has happened.

Honda is an even bigger star than Ono and if he does the business, it really could be the circuit breaker.

Surely we're alert to the opportunities that exist in Asia by now, even if it appears we are mindlessly tumbling down the path of a generational opportunity squandered. May this be a timely reminder of the power of our neighbours.

May it also be a timely reminder of the reason we're all here. We love the game, the great players and their incredible deeds.

Nobody's heart starts racing contemplating the political machinations that have dogged our sport for 18 months now.

That's an incredibly important issue to resolve but equally important is that the sport continues to enthrall us.

Having one of the biggest names ever to play in Australia would, quite literally, put our eyes back on the ball.

Hopefully, that's where they will stay.

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4 min read
Published 3 August 2018 at 3:04pm
By Sebastian Hassett