Everton have been linked with a move for the man from the land of the rising sun. Here's the lowdown on the CSKA Moscow man who keeps Shinji Kagawa out of the Japan team...
Everton are set to hold talks with CSKA Moscow attacker Keisuke Honda over a pre-contract deal. The 26-year-old Japan international’s deal with the Russians expires this summer and he will not sign a new contract. But is the silky-skilled Japanese star, capable of playing anywhere across the midfield or as a ‘false nine,’ ready for the step-up to the Premier League, and where would he fit into David Moyes’ system? Well, that’s why I’m here, to answer those questions so you don’t have to.
Honda burst onto the J.League scene as an 18 year old in 2005 with Nagoya Grampus - the former club of Arsene Wenger and Gary Lineker of course, and the side currently managed by Dragan Stojkovic - and after three full J1 seasons of displaying his pace and flair in Nagoya few were surprised when the confident youngster pursued a move to Europe.
He transferred to Eredivisie side VVV Venlo in January 2008, and his move abroad at just 21 set the precedent for other Japanese players of his generation like Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake to make their moves before entering their primes.
Though his arrival was unable to prevent VVV’s relegation to the Eerste Divisie, he was named club captain at the start of the 2008-09 campaign and his 16 goals played a major part in their immediate promotion back to the Dutch top flight.
Those 16 goals also helped catch the eye of some bigger clubs across Europe, and midway through the 2009-10 season Honda made a somewhat surprising move to Russia to join CSKA Moscow, becoming the first Japanese player to sign for a Russian first division side.
After announcing his arrival to CSKA supporters with the winner in the Champions League last 16 second leg against Sevilla in March 2010, Honda quickly became an important cog in the Moscow club’s attacking armoury, and his seven goals in 19 games this season have helped fire CSKA two points clear at the top of the Russian Premier League, which is now on its three month winter break.
After Honda arrived back in Japan on Saturday several national sports newspapers wasted no time speculating on a potential move next month, and Liverpool were prominently mentioned, along with Italian giants Inter and Lazio, and other clubs including Porto. Now, it seems a move to Everton is looking more likely.
Throughout his European club career Honda’s versatility and goalscoring ability have seen his stock rise considerably, but his displays for the Japanese national team, in particular at the 2010 World Cup, enhanced his reputation on a wider scale, and his two goals in the group stage playing in the false nine role proved that he was capable of doing the business on the biggest stage.
After Alberto Zaccheroni took over as manager of Japan after the World Cup he installed Honda as his key attacking playmaker ‘in the hole’ behind a main striker, and his excellent displays throughout Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup have seen him keep Kagawa, whose popularity in the country has soared since his move to Manchester United, out of his favoured position.
So, to where Honda might fit in at Goodison Park. As mentioned above, his versatility would make him a valuable addition to the Everton squad, and I could see him being effective at the top of David Moyes’ midfield, where his quality on the ball and range of passing would mesh perfectly with Moyes’ philosophy.
He’d also be just as capable of taking on the responsibility of leading the line whenever Jelavic is injured or unavailable. Honda has little experience in the latter role for CSKA, but he’s shown a genuine propensity for the position at international level.
One potential stumbling block might be CSKA’s asking price, with Everton unlikely to get any change from a bid of around £12 million, but the club might be able to dig deep enough, to make the move happen next month.
Honda has progressed significantly throughout his time in both Holland and Russia, looks ready for the next step in his career, and if he is to make a move to England he’ll be ready to come straight in and be an important player for Everton. There might be some pessimism amongst the hardcore Everton support that a Japanese player would only be signed to sell t-shirts, but in Honda they’d be getting the cream of the crop when it comes to Asian footballers, a well-rounded professional with skill, flair, and most importantly, buckets of experience in Europe under his belt.