Manuel Veth –
Seattle Sounders are interested in signing Japanese national team player Keisuke Honda. The 30-year-old former CSKA Moscow legend has fallen out of favour at AC Milan and is, therefore, seeking to move away from the club.
Readers of the Futbolgrad Network will, of course, remember Keisuke Honda for his time with CSKA Moscow. Honda is still referred to as a legend in Russia for having played five years for CSKA when he scored 20 goals in 94 games. He also won the Russian Football Premier League title with the club.
After five years in Moscow, he left the club on a free transfer in January 2014 to pursue his dream to play in Italy for AC Milan. At AC Milan he played 78 games, and scored eight goals.
But, unlike his time in Moscow, Honda was never able to reach the status of a legend at AC Milan. In truth, there were many who expressed doubts over the wisdom of his move to AC Milan.
AC Milan, after all, was no longer the big club it once had been. Furthermore, the Italian Serie A has suffered a drop in status, and has fallen behind La Liga, Bundesliga, and English Premier League.
Furthermore, with a transfer value of €20 million, Honda was the most valuable free agent of the 2014 winter transfer window. But perhaps Honda hoped that by joining AC Milan he could help the club he had supported as a kid, to reach their former glory days.
Keisuke Honda never completely fulfilled his potential in Italy
In the end, however, Honda and AC Milan, never were able to fulfil each others expectations. Perhaps the closest Keisuke Honda came to becoming a full-fledged star in Italy was during the 2014-15 season when he scored six goals and gave five assists.
Last season, however, his production was dreadful with just one goal, and three assists in 30 Serie A games. This year has been even worse, as Honda managed just five Serie A games with a meagre overall playing time of just 95 minutes.
It was, therefore, no surprise that Japan’s national team coach, Vahid Halilhodzić, issued a statement following Japan’s national team 2-1 victory over Saudi-Arabia in November, in which he suggested that Honda should be looking for a club where he can receive more playing time. But a move during the winter break never materialized, which now leaves Honda with just four options: to move to China, back to Japan, to Major League Soccer, or to sit out his contract, which expires in the summer.
Seattle’s interest in signing the Japanese midfielder, therefore, seems to come just in time. The problem, however, is that Milan, at the moment, seem somewhat reluctant to sell the player. AC Milan CEO, Adriano Gilliani, recently told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “Honda will stay with us until June when his contract is up. We have already agreed on that with him, and the coach.” But this could be understood as simply a form of negotiation, with the Italians wanting to get more out of a potential deal with the Sounders.
AC Milan is amidst a difficult ownership transition
The other question, however, is whether Gilliani still has the power to make such statements. AC Milan are currently in the process of being sold to a Chinese consortium. The deal will see one of Italy’s most historic clubs change ownership from Silvio Berlusconi to a group known as Sino-Europe Group.
The ownership transition has, however, been difficult, with the Chinese group delaying the transfer of €200 million that would complete the deal. There is hope that the deal will be completed as early as next week, but there is also a chance that the deal will fall through completely.
The first primary transfer window—in which clubs are allowed to sign players from abroad—runs from February 14 to May 8, which will give the Sounders enough time to complete the deal in the spring. Also, Seattle may very well chose to complete the deal on July 10, when the secondary transfer window opens, and after Keisuke Honda has become a free agent.
The signs, however, suggest that Honda will be a Seattle player at some point this season. This, in turn, brings up the question of where he will fit with Seattle?
How will Honda fit into Seattle’s squad?
Keisuke Honda played primarily as a playmaker with CSKA Moscow in the Russian Fooball Premier League. In Italy, he was more often used on the right wing, which somewhat took away from his ability to act as a transition player in midfield. Comparing his time in Moscow and Milan shows that, although Honda is fast and technically gifted, he definitely seems somewhat lost on the wing.
Under head coach Brian Schmetzer, Seattle primarily used a 4-3-3 with superstar Nicolás Lodeiro on the right wing, and Jordan Morris on the left-wing. Before missing the second half of the season with a heart problem, Clint Dempsey played either up front or behind a natural striker like Nelson Valdez.
Dempsey was later replaced by Erik Friberg, who played on the number ten position behind Valdez. Valdez, however, has returned to his native Paraguay to play for Club Cerro Porteño, and Friberg has joined BK Häcken.
To replace Valdez, Seattle have acquired Will Bruin from Houston Dynamo, and Dempsey can also fulfil that role after he is cleared to play again. But behind the two, Seattle lack a bit of depth. Lodeiro could technically fulfil the role, but the playoffs have shown that he is more effective by roaming in a front three.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.