After two successful years in the Netherlands with VVV Venlo, 23-year-old Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda joined PFC CSKA Moskva in December. Honda spoke to UEFA.com during the Army Men's pre-season training camp in Marbella, Spain – discussing learning Russian, competition for places at CSKA, and facing Sevilla FC in the UEFA Champions League.
UEFA.com: What did you learn during your stay in the Netherlands?
Keisuke Honda: A lot of things. I also gained some technical skills, but the most important thing I learned was an attacking mentality.
UEFA.com: Were you wary of leaving VVV for Russia – a new world for Japanese players?
Honda: I actually turned down an offer from CSKA last summer, but after that I heard a lot of good things about Russian football. The fact CSKA won the UEFA Cup in 2005 was one of the reasons I decided to come here.
UEFA.com: How different is the CSKA training regime from that at VVV?
Honda: Both the quantity and the quality of training is very different. I think we work three or four times harder here. Focusing on the physical side is good for me because improving my physical strength is one of my medium-term goals.
UEFA.com: CSKA have some quality attacking midfielders. Are you confident you can secure a first-team place?
Honda: The coach [Leonid Slutsky] told me he considers Chilean international Mark González, Serbian international Miloš Krasić, Russian international Alan Dzagoev – who is currently injured – and myself as his attacking options in midfield. We are going to compete for places, but he also said he plans to use all four of us in some games.
UEFA.com: Are you able to communicate with Leonid Slutsky and your Russian team-mates?
Honda: We have an interpreter who translates the coach's instructions into English, so I roughly understand what he says. Not many of my team-mates speak English. I am trying to make the Russian players laugh – joking with my limited Russian and saying 'you must speak English'.
UEFA.com: You have scored and provided assists in friendly matches for CSKA, playing behind the strikers. Do you feel you have pole position in the race for the starting lineup?
Honda: Not at all. I am the only player who joined the club in the winter so I started behind the rest. The other players had already built up a relationship with the coach. I am trying hard to catch up.
UEFA.com: Is regular football the goal in your first season with CSKA?
Honda: No, I've never made it a goal. The target I set when I came here was winning trophies. As for personal targets, I can't set specific ones until the domestic league starts [this weekend].
UEFA.com: How do you rate your opponents in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round, Sevilla?
Honda: They are the third or fourth-strongest team in Spain, after Barcelona and Real Madrid. Sevilla are much better than the teams below them in the Liga. They are top-class in every department, including pace and technique. Their Brazil striker Luis Fabiano is the main threat to us, he can decide games on his own.
UEFA.com: Does Spanish football appeal to you?
Honda: Playing there has been one of my dreams since childhood. It's one of my future ambitions to join a Spanish side after playing at CSKA.
UEFA.com: This is CSKA's first time in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage. How far can they go?
Honda: Of course, the aim is to win the title. Personally, I want to do well not only in Europe but in Russia so that I get called up to the Japan squad for the World Cup.
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