MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former Japan international Keisuke Honda has said he feels “pressure” to perform for new club Melbourne Victory after taking on a coaching role for the Cambodia national team.
Less than a week after announcing a season-long contract with Australian champions Victory, the 32-year-old midfielder was surprisingly unveiled as Cambodia’s head coach and general manager on Sunday.
Although Honda agreed to coach without pay and is expected to do much of his work remotely via video conferences, the unusual arrangement was queried by Australian media.
Honda, who set up a soccer academy in Phnom Penh in 2016, said he had proactively sought the Cambodia role from the local federation well before the World Cup in Russia.
“It was about four months ago, I spoke to the Cambodian association,” Honda said in Melbourne on Wednesday at his first media conference with Victory.
“I asked them, ‘May I become a manager of national team at the same time I’m a soccer player?’ and they said yes’.
“I feel pressure, because I have a lot of responsibilities. I have to play well here, so now I need to train well after this press conference.
“First, I am a player of Melbourne Victory right now, from today.
“So I have to focus for playing well, for the fans, for the team mates, and for everyone here.”
Honda’s one-year contract with Victory is reported to be worth about A$2.9 million ($2.09 million) and was subsidised by national soccer governing body Fooball Federation Australia.
Having already bowed out of international soccer after helping Japan reach the last 16 at the World Cup, the former AC Milan player said he had been ready to quit altogether until Victory coach Kevin Muscat came calling.
“I’m 32-years-old, I was thinking to quit my career after the World Cup, but luckily this club offered me the great offer that changed my mind … so I appreciate it,” said Honda, wearing a navy blue Victory shirt.
“To be honest, I changed my mind after I spoke to Kevin.
“He said to me he really wants to succeed as a club for not only the fans, for the A-League.
“So he’s an ambitious person, I’m an ambitious person as well. I am inspired by him. I think that’s a big, big meeting for me.”
Honda, who became Japan’s first player to score at three World Cups in Russia, bowed out of international soccer with 37 goals from 98 appearances.
Muscat said Honda had passed his physical but he would need to further assess the midfielder’s fitness before deciding when to give him a debut.
Victory will play a round of 16 match in the domestic FFA Cup next Tuesday. They open their A-League season with a derby clash against Melbourne City on Oct. 20.
($1 = 1.3872 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)