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 By John Duerden

Five leagues where Keisuke Honda could play next season

Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda
Heading back home to the Japanese J League could solidify Keisuke Honda's place on the Japan national team.

Keisuke Honda's three and a half years at AC Milan, the team he supported as a boy, are over and the Japanese star confirmed that he is on his way out.

His dream move was not exactly a nightmare, but Honda often struggled for playing time in Italy and didn't manage to make the impact he would have liked.

There is no doubting his talent, however, and at the age of 30, there is still plenty more where that came from. The question now is "Where next?" ESPNFC looks at five options.

1. Japan

The easiest move, and one that makes sense for both player and league. It's been a decade since he left his homeland to sign for VVV Venlo of the Netherlands and it is time to come home.

He is still one of the biggest-name Asian players around, if not the biggest. Honda would be a major draw in the J League, which is seeking ways to grab some of the international spotlight back from the Chinese Super League. In terms of sponsorship, media profile and fan interest, it would be a big deal.

On the pitch, the player has much to offer coaches and young players. Not only that, but his time sat on Italian benches has put his national team spot in danger. Playing at home would certainly make it easier to continue representing Japan.

2. England

There has been a lot of interest in Honda from English Premier League teams ever since he became a star in the Netherlands all those years ago. Clubs such as Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have watched and admired him for years.

His relative inactivity at Milan has taken him off the radar to an extent, and interest at the very top of the Premier League -- where teams can afford virtually any player in the world -- might not be what it was. But Honda can offer experience, talent, inventiveness and -- perhaps -- a burning desire to show Milan what they wasted.

While too much is made of the commercial opportunities in signing Asian stars, if anyone from the East does guarantee off-the-field advantages, it is Honda. Perhaps the most popular Asian star playing in the world's most popular league would be a big deal.

3. China

If Honda does come to Asia but not Japan, then he'll go to China. Money will not be an issue, as half of the Chinese Super League will be able to afford the player without batting an eyelid.

The Super League has a number of world-famous stars playing in its league these days but lacks a major Asian name. Recent rule changes have made Asian players a little less attractive for fans in the Middle Kingdom, but an exception could be made for Honda.

While China has been stocking up on South Koreans, there are no Japanese players in the top flight, and there rarely have been. The cool political relations between the countries play a part in that, but bringing in Honda could show, once again, that football can bring people together.

Honda has not always taken the most obvious path in his career. A move from the Netherlands to Russia in 2009 -- when there was plenty of interest from elsewhere in Europe -- shows that, and China would be an interesting move. It would also be close to home, making it much easier to deal with the demands of national team duty with Japan, though it would remain to be seen how a move to China would go down back home.

Seattle fans MLS Cup parade
The passion of the Seattle Sounders' supporters could make them an attractive option for Keisuke Honda.

4. The United States

It has been clear for some time that Honda was going to be off for new pastures this summer. The one league that he has been linked the most to the past few months was Major League Soccer, specifically the Seattle Sounders.

It makes sense for the club. Honda is not only a class act on the pitch who would instantly become a star of the league -- if he settled -- he brings a certain amount of cool.

Playing in the Pacific Northwest in front of some of the most passionate fans around could be a perfect marriage and may well appeal to Honda's sense of adventure. He could give the fans a world-famous hero while helping Seattle and MLS raise their profiles in Asia.

5. Spain

Shinj Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki and Hidetoshi Nakata have won league titles in England, Germany and Italy. Yet even the technically-gifted Japanese players -- or those elsewhere in Asia -- have struggled to make an impact in Spain in the modern era.

Honda could be the first. There are whispers behind the scenes that Valencia could be interested. Owned by Singaporean Peter Lim, the Spanish club is seeking to raise its profile in Asia. Signing one of the continent's biggest stars would be a great way to start.

There are not many in Asia who would be confident of going to La Liga and shining, but Honda would be one. It could give the player a fine legacy --showing the world's best league and its biggest continent that they do have a future together.

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.


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