Keisuke Honda mania hits Pachuca as next phase of their big project begins
PACHUCA, Mexico -- It wasn't a typical day in the town of approximately 256,584 inhabitants. Early in the morning Tuesday, Pachuca's training grounds located at the University of Football and Sports Sciences began to receive a high numbers of visitors. Some wore Pachuca kits and came from nearby neighborhoods, while others wore suit jackets and came from far away -- from Tokyo, to be exact.
The reason for the trip to Pachuca's training facilities? Keisuke Honda.
Honda's presentation took place at the Miguel Calero Center. Calero played for Los Tuzos between 2000 and 2011. He's regarded as one of the most significant foreigners to ever play for the club, and his spirit is present in the club's facilities. He was a superb goalkeeper, and in the center named after him, Pachuca works on preparing young Mexican goalkeepers who could one day enjoy a successful career as the Colombian once did.
Organizing Honda's official presentation at this significant place couldn't have been more fitting for the special occasion. Los Tuzos hadn't hosted such a huge official presentation since Hugo Sanchez's unveiling as new club manager in 2012, but that feels like a different era. At the time, Pachuca was still fortifying an academy that would later be handing the likes of Rodolfo Pizarro, Erick Gutierrez and Hirving "Chucky" Lozano to the first team.
On Tuesday, president and chairman, Jesus Martinez, described Honda's arrival as a "cherry on the cake" to an ongoing project that has positioned Pachuca as one of the most solid clubs in Liga MX. Honda, as he stood at the podium to speak his first words as a Tuzo, was in awe as he looked at all the people that came to welcome him. Fans who came to the presentation were given small Japanese flags to wave throughout the presentation.
"Hello everyone, pleased to meet you!" Honda slowly enunciated in Spanish, his first official remarks. "I'm Keisuke and am very happy to be here. Thank you! I want to help the club as much as I can, but I prepared this Spanish yesterday, so please, speak Spanish slowly. Thank you!"
After the presentation, which lasted about an hour and had all the team's current members present -- including manager Diego Alonso -- Martinez shared his impressions on what will certainly become one of the main signings of the present Apertura. He noted that Honda's sacrifice, effort and discipline are all traits that will allow him to immediately serve as a player to whom all youngsters in the club's successful academy can look up.
Martinez also shared details on how he convinced Honda to come to Liga MX.
"Fortunately, I was at that dinner we scheduled in Los Angeles. We were there until 2 or 3 a.m. and we agreed on many things. Our philosophy and his philosophy were identical. Fortunately, I convinced him," Martinez said.
"[Honda] fell in love with everything: the club's philosophy, the presentation, training facilities and his teammates. Also on how much Liga MX has grown.
"I'm convinced that our league is between the eighth and 10th best in the world: That's why he's here. That's why [Andre-Pierre] Gignac came. That's why [Angelo] Sagal, who had offers from midtable European clubs, preferred to come here than go there. Our league is at a phenomenal level, and that's great for Mexico," Martinez continued.
"They explained to me how Pachuca is good -- not only the team, but the people, the city and Mexico as a country," Honda responded in English to ESPN FC's question asking how he was convinced to join by Martinez and sporting director, Marco Garces.
"I really felt inspired by their words, so their words are one of the reasons I decided to be here."
Garces told the media after Honda's unveiling, which also included the presentations of Chilean internationals Sagal and Edson Puch, that they didn't expect a player of Honda's caliber to be on the market.
"When we found out that he was available, everyone got excited because we couldn't believe how good of an option we had in front of us," Garces said. "We know that in scouting, 80 percent is given to planning and analysis, while the other 20 percent is about being ready to act, especially when the market gives you an opportunity of this sort.
"Fortunately, we were ready to react and act fast."
But Garces added another small bit that provoked more than one laugh among the press. "Jesus Martinez is so good at doing business, he can sell scarves in the desert, so at the end, he can convince," Garces highlighted.
Honda, who notably tried to reply to every question in Spanish during his presser, raised the tone of his voice when he described how much he liked Pachuca's training grounds. "Muy, muy bien [very, very good]," he said. "I am really impressed by these facilities. I think if Japanese people know about Pachuca's facilities, I think every year Japanese players will come here."
Among the close to 60 Japanese journalists who came to Honda's presentations was TV Tokyo's Takamasa Tsuzuki, who noted Honda's politeness and hunger for success.
"At AC Milan, he rarely started; he was always on the bench, so it was good for him to leave. I think he made a good choice, but we still can't draw conclusions whether this move is going to be positive for him or not before the World Cup," Tsuzuki told ESPN FC.
Honda will wear Pachuca's No. 2 jersey, but there's no certainty yet when his debut will happen. Alonso will bring him along slowly, but seeing him get a couple of minutes in the team's home debut against Club America in Week 2 wouldn't be surprising.
Martinez closed one of the club's biggest recent days with a couple of lines directed to the Japanese press that made the long trip to Mexico. "We have great admiration for Japan. We're very happy that we have one great Japanese representative like Mr. Honda in our club.
"And I promise you that in less than a week I'll get him a Japanese chef, because in Mexico we have a lot of Japanese restaurants, so we're going to get him a great chef," he said, while Honda smiled alongside him.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.