Vision and versatility: AC Milan ace Honda hoping to change the worlds of football and business

The Japan international has already set up 62 football schools in his homeland, with two more planned for Shanghai and San Diego, but the 30-year-old’s ambition extends further.

It’s often said that, “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” Keisuke Honda does not agree.

The 30-year-old is one of Japan’s most famous footballing sons, still plying his trade in Serie A, one of Europe’s “Big Five” leagues. Yet he has already started educating others on how to make it to the top.

“It’s better to set up football schools now, while I’m still a player, because, in that way, we can present bigger dreams to the kids,” Honda told Goal.

Honda is doing an excellent job in that regard. The AC Milan attacker has founded 62 schools in his homeland in the past four years alone. And he is now going global, with a further two set to be launched in China and the United States and more planned for Thailand and Cambodia.

“Before I started this business, I said to all of my staff that we are setting up 300 schools,” he said. “Our vision is to enable everyone to dream, particularly the poor kids. What we wanted to do was to not only set up schools in cities — but also in rural areas. Now we are expanding worldwide.”

Indeed, he has already bought a 49 percent stake in a club in Austria, SV Horn, through his management company, Honda ESTILO. At the time of the acquisition, in June 2015, SV Horn was treading water in the third tier of Austrian football. The club has since won promotion to the second division and now has its sights set on the top flight.

But for Honda, success is not about titles and trophies but educating and improving players. Indeed, last season Hans Kleer was dismissed as coach because it was felt that he was not communicating properly with the players. Essentially, those that were not in the first team were not being told where they were going wrong. They were being left behind.

“Maybe at a big club you might not need such management at all,” Honda said. “You can quickly sell the players who aren’t delivering results. You can also buy players that are delivering results elsewhere. So, maybe the managers at those big clubs might not need to explain everything to the players.

“However, at SV Horn, we are not creating a team in which a player’s fate is decided by one mistake. We really think about their talent and strength within a long-term strategy. We need our manager to see the talents of those players not playing regularly — and improve them. We’ve got a lot of young players, and if we don’t develop their talents, they might not be playing football a year later.

“But if we develop them, they might be valuable a year later, and they might become superb talents three years later. Essentially, a good coach is not always a winning coach. What we need is not a winning coach but a coach who develops talents.”

Consequently, Honda is not just concerned with producing quality players but also quality coaches — it is about education across the board. And he has no intention of being restricted to the confines of the football world either.

“I’m interested in Japanese and global education, and also developing human skills which will work in any kind of business,” he says. “As a part of that, my current goal is to develop football coaches. The idea of an incorporated educational institution is to develop not only leaders in football but in global business.

“The really important thing is not to change your philosophy or approach or worldview — but to be able to.”

In Honda’s opinion, vision and versatility are just as important off the field as on it, as he himself is now demonstrating in two different but similar worlds.

The original version of this story which was published by Serie A can be viewed here.

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