AC Milan: Honda represents a change in tact for the Rossoneri
AC Milan have undergone something of a regression since their last league title back in 2011, falling fifteen points behind champions Juventus last season as the Rossoneri finished third. This is perhaps owing to the recent financial structural problems in Italian football and the emergence of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations causing a sea of transition at the club over the past few seasons.
The “painful, but necessary” decisions to sell Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato for a total of €78 million last summer was made during a time when the old guard of Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf were moved on.
A wave of change swept in, and it was cheap; Nigel De Jong and M’Baye Niang were signed on cut-price deals whilst the free transfer and loan system was used to bring in Ricardo Montolivo, Sulley Muntari, Bojan Krkic and Cristian Zapata.
The club’s hierarchy of Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani did sanction the £11 million and £18 million moves for Giampaolo Pazzini and Mario Balotelli, but they were covered by the extraordinary sales of Ibrahimovic and Silva to PSG. As he contended with such drastic revolution bounded by the cuts to the budget, that Massimilliano Allegri guided them to 3rd in Serie A was a great achievement.
This summer has been a similar tale of frugality, a total of €7 million being spent on Andrea Poli, Riccardo Saponara and Jherson Vergera with a further €5 million being spent on making Zapata’s loan move permanent. The cut-price spending is likely to continue with a deal for Keisuke Honda, the Japanese international who has refused to extend his deal with CSKA Moscow beyond January 2014. Reports suggested Milan agreed a €2.5 million deal but it is believed the Russian club are holding out for €7 million.
With a deal possibly set to be completed within the next couple of days, there is no doubt Milan are pulling off a superb piece of business in keeping with their new policy of restrictive spending.
Honda turned 27 last month and is set to enter into the prime of a career which has seen him win the “most valuable player” award as Japan triumphed in the 2011 Asia Cup, as well as two man of the match awards in the 2010 World Cup and an impressive Confederations Cup in Brazil this summer.
He has been a regular in the recently successful CSKA side, making 102 appearances from which he has scored a modest 23 goals, a solid record when it is considered Honda’s main priority is to create from his natural position of attacking midfield.
That is the crux of the explanation of why Milan want Honda, a player who can sit at the tip of the midfield as Allegri looks for variety from the 4-3-3 that served them so well last season. Montolivo has been particularly impressive as a deep-lying playmaker, similarly to how Andrea Pirlo has been so integral to the success of Juventus, and Allegri envisages in Honda somebody who can effectively bridge the gap between deep midfield and the attacking line of Stephen El Shaarawy and Balotelli. Kevin Prince Boateng has been used in that position previously, only to struggle and the discontent with the Ghanian has been compounded by rumours that he is on his way out of the club this summer.
Versatility is the key behind the interest in Honda, being able to play right across the final third should Allegri revert to a 4-2-3-1 despite being predominantly left-footed. There will be no doubt behind the attacking threat he will add individually, possessing a deadly shot with which he can cut inside and unleash at goal and a wide range of passing that allows him to take advantage of unerring vision in the final third.
Furthermore, there are his dangerous free-kicks which the Japanese has built a big reputation for, sparking from his brilliant goal against Denmark in the South African World Cup of 2010.
There is also the small issue of the commercial potential Honda harbours in the east, likely to boost Milan’s popularity in his native Japan and thus their marketing ability. It is a rather cynical view however, that big clubs in Europe only sign far-eastern talent for commercial interest and Honda is definitely not applicable, offering immense quality on the pitch that will perhaps outweigh anything he can offer off it.
For fee between €2.5 and €7 million, Milan are staying true to their new austere business plan and getting an extremely able playmaking force.