Owing to their financial situation in recent times, AC Milan haven’t exactly been big spenders in the transfer market of late. The signing of Riccardo Montolivo on a free transfer last summer is just the sort of business they’ve been looking to do. Of course, the purchase of Mario Balotelli in January for €21.5 million was a hefty amount but ultimately an excellent bargain which was ably covered by the sales of Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato which garnered €78 million over the summer.
In keeping with their affinity for cut-price deals, the prospect of signing Keisuke Honda from CSKA Moscow should be right up their alley. The Japanese international has refused to extend his contract with the Russian club which expires in January 2014. It was initially reported that Milan secured a transfer fee of €2.5 million but more recent reports suggest that CSKA will hold out for €7 million.
CSKA holding out for more money but Honda is still a bargain
Even at that price, Honda is certainly a bargain. The midfielder who turned 27 last month is in his prime and it’s the perfect time for him to make the switch to a big European outfit where he will still enjoy first team football. His performances in the 2010 World Cup where he won two Man of the Match awards effectively put him on the map. He was also named the Most Valuable Player at the 2011 Asian Cup for helping Japan clinch the title. More recently though, he was one of Japan’s best performers in last month’s Confederations Cup even though they were eliminated in the group stages.
Apart from starring for his national side, he’s been impressively consistent at club level as well. He’s notched up 23 goals in 102 appearances for CSKA and has been a mainstay in their first team. His playmaking ability has been vital for his club and country over the past few years. During the 2010 World Cup, Arsene Wenger said that Honda was a genius and Japan’s play depended on him.
Two factors that come to the fore with regard to Milan’s interest in Honda is the rumoured departure of Kevin-Prince Boateng and the club’s inclination to revert to their 4-4-2 diamond formation. Although Massimilliano Allegri turned the club’s fortunes around last season with the 4-3-3 system, the club’s hierarchy and certain sections of their fans prefer seeing the team playing with two strikers.
In Allegri’s defense, he simply doesn’t have the personnel at the moment to employ that system effectively. Milan lack an attacking midfielder who is capable of playing at the tip of a diamond midfield. That’s where Boateng, for all his flair and power, falls short because he doesn’t have the guile or vision to play as a trequartista.
By signing Honda, Allegri would acquire the luxury to switch between the two systems and that kind of tactical flexibility is so valuable at the highest level. Honda can play at the tip of a diamond midfield or on either flank in a 4-3-3 system. Should Milan ever utilize a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Japanese would be available to play anywhere across the three positions behind the striker owing to his versatility.
The attacking midfielder Milan need?
While Montolivo has been great for Milan in a deep-lying playmaker role, Honda’s presence in the attacking third would benefit the likes of Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy. He would ensure that the strikers get the service they need while his driving runs from midfield and eye for goal would only add to their attacking threat.
Furthermore, the Milanese club would also gain a free-kick specialist. Apart from his strikes with CSKA, he scored a spectacular free-kick in the World Cup against Denmark that made people sit up and take notice. He can score from range with his left foot in particular and it’s always a bonus to have such a good striker of the ball operating in the final third.
Apart from all his attributes on the pitch, Honda also comes with a fair bit of marketing potential. Park Ji-Sung was a marketing sensation for Manchester United in the far-east while Shinji Kagawa has taken it to a whole new level after already enjoying much success at Borussia Dortmund. Honda represents tremendous commercial value and could follow in his national teammate’s footsteps by boosting Milan’s popularity in Japan.
Although Everton have shown an interest in Honda as well, Milan are in pole position and should make it a point to complete what would be an excellent coup. He may not be the most high-profile midfielder available but at this moment in time he’s one who is tailor-made to fulfill their requirements and he’s certainly not short of quality.
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