Why Keisuke Honda Can Be an Influential Player Again at AC Milan

Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2015

AC Milan's Keisuke Honda controls the ball during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Cesena at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

He is the forgotten man of this team, lost in a summer of transfer rumours and signings, but Keisuke Honda still has a lot to give to AC Milan. And everything is set for him to finally break out.

We have heard hardly a word from the 29-year-old Japanese star this offseason. He most certainly is staying, as he told the Japan Times in May of his desire to fight for his spot.

That battle got a little easier with the departure of Stephan El Shaarawy, whose move to AS Monaco makes some space in the attack. More important is coach Sinisa Mihajlovic’s preference of the 4-3-1-2 formation, which allows for a trequartista like Honda.

For the past one-and-a-half years, Honda has struggled to find his fit. He has served under four coaches, with Mihajlovic being the fifth, and he has played out of position on the wing. Even then, Honda had bursts of excellence, scoring a flurry of goals at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. 

Other times, he would track back and play almost as a de facto full-back. 

The man was everything but an attacking midfielder. First Kaka was in the way, then it was Jeremy Menez.

The odd game that he had a chance to assume his natural role, Honda exploded, passing left and right and setting up plays. Honda set up both goals in a 2-0 win over Roma near the end of this past season, and suddenly he was free. He had the freedom to move around and find the gaps in the defence. He was fun to watch.

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Now there is a chance for Honda to finally secure a spot under Mihajlovic, who appreciates a good shift and a hard worker. That, in a nutshell, is Honda. Here is a man who would travel from Australia back to Italy, only to head to the training pitch an hour-and-a-half after arriving. He is one of the most dedicated men on the squad. 

The attack is full of options: Alessio Cerci, Suso, Luiz Adriano, Carlos Bacca, Alessandro Matri, Hachim Mastour. But they will need proper service, and Honda can deliver that.

Finally the offence has some real target men, unlike the false-nine experiment under recently sacked coach Filippo Inzaghi, and with that comes the need for a real source of inspiration.

Guys like Bacca and Adriano, as good as they are inside the penalty box, rely on the kind of service that a player like Honda can provide. He is the most experienced and probably the most likely to take back the trequartista role. 

He is the No. 10, after all.

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