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Japan’s Honda Estilo shapes Austrian small-town soccer team

Japanese midfielder Mizuki Arai, 19 (facing camera, centre) trains with team members of local Austrian club Horn. (File photo, April 21, 2016 in Horn, Austria.) Japanese football star Keisuke Honda has invested in the local team with the aim of pushing it to the Champions League.

 

Horn, Austria / DPA

There is nothing very Asian about the quiet little Austrian town of Horn.
It is surrounded by rolling hills and forests, and like any respectable central European town, it boasts a medieval church, old buildings with red-tile roofs, and the manor-house of a local noble family.
But when you enter the stadium of the Horn football club, things look a little different.
The concession stands of this third-tier team sell not only Austrian fare, but also Japanese fried noodles, meat-filled rice balls and sake shots – all advertised in German and
Japanese.
Banners advertise L’eau de Diamond, the perfume brand of Japanese football star Keisuke Honda, who has invested in the team, and whose plans sound outsized in this farming community of 6,600 people.
“We want to be in the Champions League in five years,” Horn’s new Japanese coach Masanori Hamayoshi said on a recent spring day outside the changing room, as Japanese and local players were arriving for training.
To get into Europe’s annual top competition, the 44-year-old coach and Horn’s Japanese managers want to advance to the second and first Austrian leagues in the next few years.
Honda, who plays for AC Milan in Italy, not only wants Horn to become more successful, but he also wants to give young Japanese players a chance to experience European-style football.
His company, Honda Estilo, was searching several European countries to find a suitable club to invest in, said Honda’s cousin Yoji, who now serves as one of Horn’s chairmen.
Austria was an ideal location because of the country’s relatively loose rules when it comes to the number of foreign players in football teams.
In addition, Horn had no existing corporate owners who would interfere with Honda’s plans.
“Horn was the city that fitted perfectly with Honda Estilo,” Yoji Honda said.
Since the unusual international deal was announced last June, six Japanese players have joined Horn, while coach Hamayoshi was
hired in April.
The East Asian team members are a diverse bunch.
There is Shuichi Gonda, a 27-year-old Japanese national team goalkeeper, who is currently out with a broken leg.
There is 21-year-old Nikki Havenaar, a former player for the Japanese top-tier side Nagoya Grampus, who belongs to a family of footballers of Dutch origin who have become naturalized Japanese citizens.
And then there is 18-year-old midfielder Kenta Kawanaka, who was drafted directly from his high school team in the mountainous Wakayama region.
And more are to come to Horn in the long run, if the team’s Japanese co-owners have their way.
After all, they can draw from a big talent pool at home. Honda Estilo operates dozens of football schools for children in Japan, some of whom may pursue international careers when they become old enough.
“Our long-term goal is to bring Japanese players to Europe,” Yoji Honda said, adding that some of them may want to use their experience to enter top European leagues such as the German Bundesliga.
The European-type football that Horn plays is not only attractive to Japanese athletes with big dreams, but also to football fans in the Asian country.
Although Horn’s rivals in eastern Austria’s regional league include teams with amateur players, all of Horn’s matches are broadcast on a popular Japanese video platform, where they attract 20,000 Japanese fans on average.
The main reason for this large following is the star power of Horn’s co-owner Keisuke Honda, his cousin admitted.
“But another reason is the football style,” he said.
“In Japan there is a lot of passing and passing. Austrian football is more dynamic and has more counterattacks. It is more offensive and more enjoyable,” he added.
Horn’s Japanese team members are fast and determined, Austrian defender Aleksandar Djordjevic said.
“They want to achieve something. They go full throttle every day,” he said.
Although the Japanese transplants have adjusted well to Austrian small-town life, according to players and managers, they all miss Japanese food.
Some Japanese staff bring groceries from Japanese food stores in Vienna, which is about an hour’s drive away. “We help each other,” Yoji Honda said.
During recent training, another issue that sets the Japanese apart from the Austrians was clearly visible. All the Japanese players arrived early, while their local colleagues ambled to their dressing rooms a little later. “In Japan we have strict rules, we have strict deadlines,” Yoji Honda said. “Here in Austria, it is different,” he added politely.
Punctuality is not the only concept that he wants to instil on this rural Austrian team.
He also wants to introduce the philosophy of perseverance and optimism that is taught in Keisuke Honda’s football schools.
“Whether you play football or not, you will face difficult moments in your life. The most important thing is: Never give up,” said Yoji Honda, summing up the concept.
The enthusiasm has not yet infected everyone in town.
Sitting at a petrol-station cafe, two men who looked to be in their sixties were drinking coffee and white wine and mused about Horn’s prospects.
“It would be a success if they advance to the first league,” Hermann Essmeister said.
He was dismissive about Horn’s Champions League plans: “It’s illusory,” he said.
His companion, who did not wish to give his name, complained about the large number of foreign players. “Sports Club Horn is no more. It’s become a Sports Club Japan, Slovenia, Czechia,” he said.
But Honda’s spirit has already caught on with the team.
“In football, everything is possible. Nothing is unrealistic,” Djordjevic said.

Horn?s Japanese coach Masanori Hamayoshi, 44, stands in front of his team?s logo. (File photo, April 21, 2016 in Horn, Austria.) Japanese football star Keisuke Honda has invested in the local team with the aim of pushing it to the Champions League.

 

Horn?s Japanese chairman Yoji Honda, 32, stands on his team?s training pitch in Horn. His cousin, Japanese football star Keisuke Honda, has invested in the local team with the aim of pushing it to the Champions League. (File photo, April 21, 2016 in Horn, Austria.)

 

Marc-Kevin Prischnig, the Austrian managing director of local football club Horn, shows off the stadium?s Japanese concession stand. (File photo, April 21, 2016 in Horn, Austria.) Japanese football star Keisuke Honda has invested in the local team with the aim of pushing it to the Champions League.

 

 

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