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AC Milan and Japan star Keisuke Honda holds a training session for schoolchildren at Olympic Stadium on Monday. Sreng Meng Srun

Japan star Honda launches soccer school

One of Japan’s most acclaimed football stars, Keisuke Honda formally launched his Soltilo Soccer Academy in Phnom Penh, making Cambodia its ninth country, with the AC Milan forward promising to harness the power of dreams to inspire youngsters to achieve footballing excellence.

The 30-year-old Honda, who wears the No10 jersey for the Italian Serie A giants and has 60 caps for Japan, including at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, held a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel on Monday evening to announce the academy, which will have up to 100 students, initially in the 6 to 10 age bracket, with the chance to continue further depending on skill level.

It was during his first visit to the Kingdom in June that Keisuke was struck by the huge popularity of the game here and the sizeable number of youngsters it attracts. The Honda school, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, mirrors the Japanese star’s philosophy of helping youngsters better their lives through football.

Founded in 2012, the Soltilo Familia Soccer School has a network of 60 such institutions involving up to 4,000 children in Japan and China. Now operating in nine countries, the Honda schools have been built on the player’s vision of creating a chance for kids to dream big when it comes to football.

“I was young when my parents got divorced. I loved them both. It was my father who showed me some video clips of great Pele, who was my childhood hero.

“Football helped me deal with my life in those days and my father had created a powerful dream for me in the game,” Honda recalled at the conference.

“I never lost hope, and I want to create for Cambodian children the dream my father created for me. So I have just one question for the Cambodian kids: ‘What is your dream?’

“I want this to be a long-term project, as long as it takes. There have been some investments so far, but we need to look for Japanese, local and international supporters and sponsors as we progress,” Honda said.

“We have no commercial interest in this. Our aim is quite simply to give our kids the best possible opportunity to realise their footballing potential. And if we achieve that I am happy,” he said.

Soon after his arrival two days ago, Honda visited Siem Reap, and after an extensive tour of the world heritage city and its surrounds, he struck a deal with the Siem Reap Football Association to develop second-tier Siem Reap Angkor FC as a development club for aspiring players.

“We will fully support Siem Reap Angkor FC as a team for Cambodian youngsters to look at with pride,” the Japanese star said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Honda held two training camps for school-age hopefuls at Olympic Stadium.

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