Arriving on a free transfer at the conclusion of his contract with CSKA, Honda was expected to provide the creativity and flair he has provided to Japan, CSKA, VVV-Venlo and Nagoya Grampus in his career thus far.
Honda shined in his first two appearances against Sassuolo and Spezia, yet his influence has thus far not been as great as has been hoped. In six matches with Milan, he has yet to score this season.
With the weight of expectation perhaps bearing down on him, Honda has appeared subdued and often lacked the incision with which he has built his reputation to date.
It is important to note that manager Clarence Seedorf has opted to use Honda in one of the wide positions in his favored 4-2-3-1 formation, leaving Kaka or Adel Taarabt in behind the striker.
According to what assistant coach Mauro Tassotti told reporters at a press conference in January, Honda prefers playing in the center of the field to lining up out wide. In many ways, this mirrors the situation of his countryman Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United.
Kagawa has played out of position ever since arriving at Old Trafford and has yet to find his feet. In October, Jamie Sanderson of Metro reported that Kagawa's former club, Borussia Dortmund, was interested in bringing him back.
Milan will hope Honda integrates himself into the fabric of Seedorf's attack-minded style, yet he may be forced to adapt his own personal style to fit into the best XI for Milan heading into next season.
There is no doubt that Honda remains a quality player—his performance for Japan against New Zealand was top-class just this past week. The onus falls on him to adapt accordingly to Italian football following his years in Russia.
Unfortunately for Honda, his preferred place in the central attacking position will continue to be contested by Kaka, Taarabt and even the likes of Valter Birsa and Riccardo Saponara.
Honda will have to earn the trust of Seedorf—evidently he has not yet earned it, given that Honda has only completed the full 90 minutes in three of his 10 matches for Milan so far.
Given time, Honda should be able to prove himself as a quality option for Milan. As it currently stands, however, he is still a ways away from reaching the standards bestowed upon him by the Milan faithful.