Japan and AC Milan legend Keisuke Honda improving Cambodia as coach at the 2022 SEA Games

Honda coaches Cambodia's men's football team while still playing professionally in Lithuania's A Lyga, and has elevated the Southeast Asian nation's game. What's next?

By Ken Browne
Picture by 2020 Getty Images

Keisuke Honda is on the sidelines at the SEA Games in 2022 coaching a Cambodia men's football team that has improved under his watch.

Honda is a Japan and AC Milan hero, has 98 international caps and scored 37 goals for the Samurai Blue. He won the AFC Asian Cup in 2011, and also won the Russian Premier League and the Azerbaijan top division, playing too in Brazil, Australia, and Portugal.

He's still playing professionally in Lithuania, but already has his foot in the door in coaching, and at just 35 years of age could have a long career ahead of him.

Honda took over as Cambodia coach in 2018 with assistant Felix Dalmas, but it hasn't been an easy task. They've had some heavy losses in FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying, like a 14–0 defeat to Iran in late 2020.

But there have been some green shoots at the SEA Games. Cambodia won their opener 4-1 against Laos, and only lost by a single goal to Singapore in Game two.

Ahead of a big clash with neighbours Thailand for a spot in the semi-finals, Honda received perhaps the best compliment from his rivals in Vietnam.

Thai newspaper praises Honda

Before the pivotal group stage game between Thailand and Cambodia, Thai newspaper Siamsport talked about how coach Honda had helped change Cambodia's U23 side, bringing in better organisation, and making them more difficult to defeat.

The paper warned against the Thai U23s taking victory against Cambodia for granted or underestimating Honda's powers of motivation and organisation.

The Japanese star - whose Twitter description reads 'Dreamer, challenger, failure' - couldn't resist having a little dig and tweeted:

"Thank you guys! But please keep underestimating me until the SEA Games are over.”

Keisuke Honda: "I can't be afraid to make mistakes"

Cutting his teeth in the international game, Honda's world-traversed football experience will be invaluable as his playing days come to a close and he dedicates himself to football coaching and management.

His words of encouragement to his team posted on Instagram (below) "I've got to believe in what I'm going to do and I can't be afraid to make mistakes," could also apply to his managerial career.

Watching his style on the sidelines, it reminds you of the way he plays: Calm, eyes fixed on the pitch, on spaces, on how he can change the game with his vision.

So what's the future? Coach of the Japan U23 national team at the Olympics? AC Milan? CSKA Moscow?

Wherever he goes it'll be fascinating to watch.

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