New Cambodia head coach and Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda revealed on Wednesday that he planned to retire after the World Cup but decided to keep playing after being inspired by Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat.
The former AC Milan striker, one of the highest profile names in Asian football, has signed for the reigning A-League champions for the 2018-19 season.
“I was thinking to quit my career after the World Cup, but lucky this club made me a great offer that changed my mind,” he said at his welcome press conference, which was packed with Japanese media.
“I changed my mind after I spoke to Kevin directly.
“He said to me he really wants to succeed as a club . . . he’s an ambitious person and I’m an ambitious person as well, so I was inspired by him. That was a big meeting for me.
“I’m excited. I’m so glad I can try a new challenge in my career.”
The talismanic 32-year-old, who retired from international football after Japan’s heartbreaking World Cup in Russia, had been a free agent since departing Mexican club Pachuca.
Honda shot to fame at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when his goals helped Japan reach the last 16. He netted 37 times in 98 appearances for his country and was the first Japanese player to score at three World Cups – 2010, 2014 and 2018.
Instantly recognisable with his spiky, bleach-blond hair, he spent four seasons at AC Milan and has also played for VVV-Venlo in Holland and CSKA Moscow.
He will juggle his stint in Melbourne with duties as general manager of Cambodia’s struggling national team, after he was unveiled in that role at the weekend.
Honda plans to speak regularly with the Cambodian players by videoconference and spend as much time there as possible around the Australian football season.
Muscat was adamant it won’t compromise his commitment to the Victory.
“The long and the short of it is that first and foremost his priorities are here with Melbourne Victory and the situation will no way compromise any of our games or training,” Muscat said.
“Keisuke is a very humble and giving person, and he’s got an opportunity to give something back and that’s why he’s taken on what he has [in Cambodia].”
In July, Honda teamed up with Hollywood movie star Will Smith to launch a venture capital fund aimed at helping “people in disadvantaged environments”