Honda to footballers: ‘Be hungry for success’

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The Cambodian national team training in preparation for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 with Japanese manager Keisuke Honda on June 13. FFC

Japanese football legend Keisuke Honda, who leads the Cambodian national team as manager, used the occasion of his 36th birthday to share his experience and inspire the young Kouprey, urging them to develop their capabilities further in order to succeed in their careers.

“I want everyone to be confident in themselves, their lives and careers, which means we must all be hungry for success in our careers,” Honda told the Cambodian players and coaches.

“When I was young, I had a big dream that I would play in the World Cup and become a champion,” the former Japanese striker told the assembled Cambodians. “I was never a world champion as a player, but I have never given up, and that is why I become the general manger of the Cambodian side.”

“I played in three World Cups, despite not being a really talented player. When I was young, I said I would play in a World Cup, and I meant it. A many people laughed at me and said I would not be able to get there, and that was the point when I really focused on improving myself. Cambodian football I snow at the same place. How will we improve ourselves? Should we allow ourselves to become complacent with what we have achieved already, or should be eagerly planning what we want to do next?” he added.

Honda was a member of the U20 Japanese national team in 2005 and joined the U23 side the following year. In 2008, he made his debut in the Japanese senior men’s side. Across the three grades, he appeared 117 times for Japan and scored 42 goals.

The 36-year-old played in the World Cup three times, in 2010, 2014 and 2018. In 10 World Cup appearances, Honda scored four goals.

He became a professional player in 2004 when he joined Japanese Premier League club Nagoya Grampus, and transferred in 2008 to the Dutch Eredivisie club VVV-Venlo. He left the club for a spell in the Russian Premier League with CSKA Moscow before joining storied club AC Milan in the Italian Serie A, where he made a reputation for himself as one of Asian football’s brightest stars.

After leaving the Italian club in 2017, Honda played for seven consecutive major clubs in different countries until 2021.

Based on his own rich experience, he encouraged young Cambodian players to leave the Kingdom if they got the chance, saying that the experience and skills they would gain would help Cambodian football grow stronger. With time, there was no reason why the Kingdom could not play in major leagues abroad, and one day the World Cup, just as Japan had.

“Some of you are very young – you have time to seek out opportunities to play overseas. It is important that the team knows what developments are happening in the world of football in other nations. Sending young players out to play is the best way to find out, and what makes them better players will make Cambodia a better team,” he said.

Honda has been managing the team – without taking a salary – since 2018. During his tenure, he and his coaching staff have paid close attention to the development of individual Cambodian players, in order to help the team unlock their potential. During the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, the Cambodian team – under his direct leadership – advanced to the semi-finals for the first time in their history.

Unfortunately, at the most recent SEA Games in Vietnam, the team was eliminated in the group stage, recording one win, one draw and two losses in a tough group. The team is currently in India, where they have dropped out of Group D qualifying for the 2022 AFC Asia Cup.

It is important to remember that Cambodia is currently focused on strengthening its younger players, as the country prepares to enjoy home advantage in the U23 football event at the 32nd SEA Games next year.

Sao Sokha, National Military Police chief and president of the Football Federation of Cambodia, expressed his full confidence that Honda and his team would lead the team to the finals of this historic event in Cambodia.