How well can Keisuke Honda split his time between Cambodia and Melbourne Victory?
Keisuke Honda does not need to be on the same continent as the Cambodia national team to know that he has quite a job on his hands to take the Angkor Warriors forward.
The ongoing 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup -- of which the Japan international plays only a bit part -- is proof of that.
The 1-0 loss to Malaysia in Phnom Penh and the 4-1 defeat in Myanmar this week showed that there is much for the 32-year-old to work with: Talent, passion and determination. At the same time there is much work to do: A failure to take chances, problems in defence and game management as well as a tendency to fade in the final part of games.
Even with an experienced coach on hand all the time, the road ahead would be long. Honda, who signed for Australian A-League side Melbourne Victory in August as a marquee player before announcing his Cambodia job on the side, is the opposite of that however. The former Milan man has no coaching experience or qualifications and that's why his official title of general manager does not accurately reflect his role as de facto head coach.
Part-time head coach, to be more precise, as he spends most of his time playing for the Victory. Normally, the sight of a player scoring for his club on Sunday evening and then flying thousands of miles to coach a national team the following night would be seen as a little weird. But Honda has never been one to follow convention on or off the pitch.
One wonders whether the Victory would prefer their marquee to be playing for Japan than jetting around Southeast Asia with Cambodia. Ideally, he would be resting Down Under.
Honda, with his football schools and companies that employ 140 people, does not do rest, but despite his crammed schedule the early signs of his influence can be seen. The official head coach is Felix Gonzalez, an inexperienced and little-known Argentine, who said that Honda had been helping to train the team via video.
At times against Myanmar, Cambodia passed the ball out from the back in a way that would have had fans of Japan nodding in appreciation and recognition. There was some intelligent movement in attack and a desire to play attractive football.
Yangon is not an easy place to go -- and not just because of the city's terrible traffic -- but it could have ended differently. Not long after Myanmar cancelled out Cambodia's opener, goalkeeper Keo Soksela saved a penalty to keep the hosts from moving ahead. Moments later, the Angkor No. 1 spilled a simple cross and suddenly it was 2-1 and from then, there was going to be only one outcome. The ball was dropped and so were heads even before the third, also softly conceded, went in.
The goalkeeping issue has been a problem for a while, part of a soft underbelly that can cost confidence. Ultimately, Cambodia tend to look good when all is going well but don't always react well to adversity.
At the other end, a lack of a cutting edge makes defensive mistakes all the more serious. Reung Bunheing works hard as the main striker, but the under-fire forward has yet to show he has the quality in the area to snatch a goal out of nothing to earn a point or three that the team often deserves.
In the short term, Honda will be in charge for the game against Laos on Tuesday. Cambodia needs a win against the weakest member of the group, but then so does the 32-year-old -- it is vital he gets a victory. The next day Honda will depart back to Australia, missing the toughest test in the group, the trip to Vietnam.
That is the problem of the whole situation. Past coaches in Cambodia have complained that they try to work with the players and improve them in all aspects but then they go back to their clubs, which are not yet of the necessary quality to maintain, let alone improve, the standards that the national team decides.
Yet here we have a coach who not only returns to his club too, but does so thousands of miles away. During the A-League season, he also is available only during official FIFA dates. How this whole situation pans out remains to be seen. Honda is trying to change the way Cambodia plays and take the team to the next level, but it won't be easy to maintain the changes as Honda once again departs for his club.