The wait for Keisuke Honda will finally be over for Milan fans this January. The Rossoneri tried hard to bring the Japanese international into the fold over the summer, but they were forced to wait for his contract with CSKA Moscow to run down.
That contract ends when the winter transfer window opens, and Milan has already announced that Honda will join the squad.
It's long overdue that the supremely talented Honda moved to one of Europe's bigger leagues. He has toiled in the Russian Premier League since 2010 and helped them to the league title in seven years last season. But after stellar international performances in the 2010 World Cup and this summer's Confederations Cup, it was clear that a club from a big league would come calling eventually.
Given that Honda's best position is as an attacking midfielder, his going to the Serie A—which has a long history of successful trequartistas—isn't surprising.
What is a surprise is that he's going to Milan, which has two players—Kaka and Riccardo Saponara—who play in the same position that Honda plays best.
Despite the apparent crowd at the trequartista position, Honda is versatile enough that he can help Milan in numerous ways.
In addition to his skill as a trequartista, Honda can move back and play in the deep-lying regista position or press forward and become a second striker. The former option could give Milan immediate help. Riccardo Montolivo, who came to the team on a Bosman a year ago, has had a horrific start to the year.
He may yet rebound, as he did last season when he started with a rough start. But if he doesn't, Honda could be slotted in as the deep distributor in an attempt to give the men up front better service. This wouldn't be an ideal long-term solution, but it would put a good creator in position to trigger the attack and allow Montolivo to work out his problems on the training ground.
If Massimiliano Allegri was more inclined to push Honda forward, he could be a boon to Mario Balotelli on the front line. With Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy hurt and Alessandro Matri turning into one of the great transfer mistakes of the last ten years, Mario Balotelli has had to shoulder the entire load at the forward position, and the pressure is taking a toll on him.
Putting Honda into the hole behind him would force defenses to split their attention between the two international stars, which could alleviate Super Mario's struggles and once again unleash him at full form.
It's also possible to place Honda, Kaka, and El Shaarawy in a line of three behind Balotelli. Such a formation—suggested also by B/R's Matteo Bonetti—would allow El Shaarawy to operate in his preferred left wing position, with Honda and Kaka rotating between the center and right wing. Such a rotation would let Milan use both of their talents in the center of midfield and put El Shaarawy in the one place on the field where he can fully exploit his considerable skill set.
However much Honda helps Milan on the field, his impact may be significantly larger off of it.
Honda is the face of the national team in soccer-mad Japan. Owner Silvio Berlusconi's legal troubles—as well as the general Italian financial crisis—have put Milan in a precarious financial situation in the last few years. That has allowed Juventus, plump with revenue from their palatial new stadium, to dominate the Italian transfer market. With Honda on the roster, Milan has the chance to tap the vast Japanese market and increase revenues. It could allow the team to punch closer to their usual weight during transfer season.
Milan is hoping that Honda's arrival will galvanize the team on and off the field. The acquisition of the Japan international may end up causing a logjam at the top of Max Allegri's midfield, but Honda is versatile enough to make contributions without causing too much upset in the squad. His quality on the field is unquestioned and will certainly raise the level of Milan's midfield play.
The question now is where that shot in the arm can take the Rossoneri in the second half of the season.
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