The recent Kirin Cup game and World Cup qualifier weren’t the most exciting of matches, although Keisuke Honda did put in one impressive defensive display…
As a rule Keisuke Honda doesn’t speak to the media in the two days leading up to a match.
It is supposedly part of the enigmatic midfielder’s preparation for games, and while it can often be frustrating it seems to work for him, so it’s now accepted that he won’t be making any comments as kick-off approaches.
This was the last thing on my mind as I headed to Saitama sub-ground a couple of weeks ago for a Japan training session though, as the only player I wanted speak to was Maya Yoshida as he had just finalized his move to Southampton and I’d been asked to provide a short feature on him for the local paper.
We were told he would be one of the players doing a TV interview, which would delay him a little but wasn’t the end of the world, and after hearing from a colleague that he’d spoken at length to the Japanese media the previous day I didn’t envisage any problems getting a couple of minutes with him.
The players gradually made their way from the changing rooms towards the bus, prompting the usual scurrying of feet as journalists flagged them down and huddled around, but I restricted myself to cursory greetings and, as Endo finished his bit for TV and Yoshida began his, I made sure I was all set and would be primed to grab him once he was done.
Then it all went wrong.
Honda appeared in the doorway of the clubhouse, paused and checked with the press officer that he was ok to pass behind Yoshida, before began to make his way down the path.
After a few steps he hesitated and caught my eye.
“Do you want to ask me something?” he said, in English.
No, you’re alright, mate. Thanks anyway.
Well, that’s what I wanted to say, but then two realizations kicked in: 1) that would be rude, and, not only that, but if I did say no he might not stop when I wanted to speak to him in the future; and 2) this was Keisuke Honda, offering me comments in his usual mute time. What kind of idiot would say, “No, you’re alright, mate. Thanks anyway”?
So, after half-a-second of weighing up my options, I replied that, if that would be ok, that would be great, and he wandered over and said, “OK”.
Now I had two more problems: 1) I didn’t have any questions in mind to ask Honda; and 2) I was mindful of the fact that Yoshida was going to be finishing his TV interview very soon.
Even so, I was able to open with a cursory question about the disappointing UAE game and what he expected looking ahead to Iraq, and while he answered my brain started to click into gear.
Another question about the qualifiers was quickly done with and I followed it by asking what he thought of Yoshida’s move, having himself progressed from Grampus to Venlo and then bigger things in his career.
Honda gave some thoughtful and positive remarks, focused around the fact that his teammate must continue to believe in his ability and stay confident.
All well and good, but as he started to provide those thoughtful and positive remarks, the teammate in question had finished his TV duties and was making a beeline for the bus.
I waited patiently in the excruciating seconds as Honda completed his answer and Yoshida moved into the distance and, once silence ensued, thanked the CSKA Moscow player, wished him luck against Iraq and then scurried off in the direction of Saints’ new defender.
Having spoken to the Japanese media the day before no-one had stopped him though and, being a nice guy, he’d dumped his bag on the bus and headed for the fans to sign some autographs.
“Maya! Maya!” screamed the hundreds of fans to my right, while from my left the team’s press officer loomed – signaling it was nearly time to go.
“Maya! Maya!” I yelled as he jogged back towards the bus.
Sorry, he signaled apologetically, before boarding.
Keisuke Honda is regarded by most as an intelligent and aggressive attacking player.
Personally though, now I just see him as a frustratingly effective defender.
Postscript: Thankfully I did manage to get a few minutes with Maya after the Iraq game and was able to provide a feature on Saints’ new defender – including comments from Honda – for the Southern Daily Echo. You can read it here, if you’d like.