Why Honda couldn't make a difference in the A-League on his own

Keisuke Honda has left the A-League. His time with Melbourne Victory was short and while it was fairly sweet for the most part, there must be something of a sour aftertaste.

Keisuke Honda

Former Melbourne Victory star Keisuke Honda Source: Getty Images

"But I knew that I would stay for just (one) year so I hope no one is surprised, no one disappointed," the Japanese star reportedly said upon his departure.

He is probably right on both counts. He did pretty well, not much to shock and awe, but there was little to complain about either.

It was perhaps fitting that just a few days after the team fell to a fourth defeat in five hapless Asian Champions League games their domestic ambitions were cut short in even more devastating fashion with a 6-1 loss at the hands of Sydney FC.

One wonders what Honda made of it all. One wonders what all will make of Honda’s time.

Here was a good player who showed himself to be one of the best in the league, which is what a marquee should do.

Had a hamstring not interrupted, then good could have been great.

Not only did that knock sideline the star, but after returning to action he could not quite recapture that early season rhythm. But then perhaps the same could be said of the team in general.

But the real lesson of Honda’s time is that it provides pointers on how Asian stars should be used off the pitch.

Other clubs should look and learn from Melbourne's experience and realise that Victory could surely have done more.

The Japanese media is as parochial as they come and have followed his exploits closely but there was an opportunity to really engage with the wider Japanese public and really open up Victory to a new and curious audience.

A few Japanese tweets help but they are not something to build a winning strategy on.

And maybe it was never realised that Honda was an unusual Asian player in that other fans in other Asian nations are interested in him.

Moving around the continent these past few months, there seemed to be little knowledge that Honda was even in Australia.

The club and the league should have been shouting from all kinds of rooftops that they had one of the continent’s biggest stars on their books. 

Japan’s experience in Southeast Asia and especially Thailand did, after all, provide a blueprint.

There is a good deal of interest in Thailand in the exploits of their biggest star Chanathip Songkrasin in the J1 League.

Thais are watching Consadole Sapporo’s games in increasing numbers, the club is active at various levels of the country’s media and there is considerable coverage of the Japanese league in the Thai media.

This has not happened in a vacuum however and this is perhaps the biggest lesson.

More could have been done in Australia with Honda but to truly widen a league’s appeal, there has to be more strings to the bow than a single signing.

Just as Honda was never, on his own, going to turn Victory into world-beaters, the same was true off the pitch.

He was never going to take the A-League to the next level in Asia by himself.

The J.League’s Asia Strategy Office has been working on Southeast Asia for years. They have put in the hours and the miles, as well as considerable resources to try and grow the league’s market and revenue in that football-mad region of 700 million to Australia’s north.

Recruiting top ASEAN players - who would not need to be marquees in Australia - helps, even if not all have succeeded.

More could have been made of Honda - a player with plenty of business interests who would surely have been open to, and able to help with, any number of ideas - but if the league is really going to build solid support in Asia, then it was always going to take a lot more than signing the odd big-name player.

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Have a story or comment? Contact Us

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Watch nowOn Demand
Follow SBS Sport
4 min read
Published 15 May 2019 at 11:11am
By John Duerden