The fans call him “Keizer Keisuke”, Emperor Keisuke. It’s a fitting nickname for VVV Venlo’s Japanese midfield star. The young Japanese play-maker has been the inspirational for VVV this season and last.
Honda is the driving force in midfield for the current leader in the Dutch Jupiler League. Only 21 years of age, Honda has a mature style of play and he is already capable of dictating the tempo in a match. A pretty impressive achievement for a such a young player, active in a foreign and strange league.
Honda was brought to VVV’s attention by their former manager Sef Vergoossen. Vergoossen had trained Nagoya Grampus Eight in the Japanese J-League for a season, before returning to Holland to take over at PSV. After his return, he tipped off VVV regarding Honda.
VVV brought in Honda during the winter-break and the youngster looked pretty impressive. He managed to play 14 games and scoring one goal (from a trademark free-kick) in the second half of the season and was generally one of VVV’s best players, together with revelation Nordin Amrabat.
When the yellow-blacks from Venlo were relegated at the end of the season, everyone expected Honda to make a transfer to one of the top flight teams. None of the top flight teams were interested, however. There was some interest from J-League clubs, but Honda wanted to stay in Europe.
After playing for Japan in the Olympics, Keisuke has returned and he seems to be leading VVV to the title in the Jupiler League. His inspired passing and trademark free-kicks are exceptional this season.
This warrants one important question. Why are Dutch scouts blind to Keisuke's skills? After having seen some of the foreign drab signed this summer, I’m still wondering why clubs splash out cash on players that have never played in our domestic league before, especially when you know there’s a cheap and talented alternative available from within the own leagues.
Honda would be a reinforcement to a starting line-up player for pretty much every side in the Eredivisie, barring perhaps Ajax, PSV, and AZ. Instead, these clubs pay more money for players who can only be classed as average (so far).
Besides the sporting aspect, there is an obvious second benefit in signing Honda. You see, signing Asian players is also a good idea because of their commercial profitability. Like Shinji Ono at Feyenoord and Hidetoshi Nakata in Italy a few years ago, as well as Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic right now, Keisuke Honda’s progress will be followed avidly back in his homeland.
Celtic, Feyenoord, and Nakata’s Italian clubs all have or had merchandising outlets across Japan and profit from television specials on their players, which are beamed back to their adoring fans.
Even Honda’s current club, Dutch minnows VVV Venlo, have a fanclub and a fanshop in Japan. Even their website was translated into Japanese, so VVV is currently the only Dutch club with a Japanese version of the official club site.
All the effort put in has been well worth it. Japanese fans take their football very seriously and they have plenty of money to plonk down on merchandise. Most of the better players have a strong fan following, so signing them could be rather profitable.
With Honda being an international and one of the star players of the Japanese U23 team in the Olympics, you can rest assured that he has plenty of fans and media attention will be over-whelming.
Even now, playing in the second tier of Dutch football, there's always Japanese news crews around, reporting about everything Keisuke does. Imagine what would happen if he made a transfer to a big club...
For both sporting and financial reasons, I can’t understand why none of the top flight clubs have started negotiating a deal for "Keizer" Keisuke.
Still, remember the name Keisuke Honda—we might be hearing more from him in the future.