Victory hunting Honda replacement as star heads for exit door

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Melbourne Victory are planning for life after Keisuke Honda, with the Japan great and coach Kevin Muscat heading for an abrupt parting of the ways at the end of the season.

The 32-year-old attacking midfielder - currently living out his double life plotting the Olyroos’ downfall as coach of Cambodia’s Under-23s in Phenom Penh - hasn’t quite delivered, Victory believe, on their sizable investment.

There have been no discussions over extending his stay, with both parties - it would seem - heading for a mutual, if amicable, separation.

It’s understood the club paid well in excess of the reported $1.3 million to secure the former Nagoya Grampus, CSKA Moscow and AC Milan star on a one-year deal.

It was mooted that FFA, through Fox Sports’ marquee fund, chipped in a further $1.6 million to secure the A-League’s most high-profile face for 2018-2019.

However, Victory appear to have paid Honda around $2 million out of their own pockets, without any discernible uptick in off-field metrics or attendances, whether playing at home or away.

And, as Honda puts Cambodia through their paces in preparation to face Graham Arnold’s Olyroos in Friday’s AFC Championship qualifier, Victory already have their eye on a potential replacement in the foreign marquee spot.

Sidelined with a mysterious hamstring injury for five weeks after Christmas, Honda, who retired from international football after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, has made a decent impression on the field, with six goals and five assists from his 13 A-League appearances.

He’s also made two AFC Champions League appearances to date, scoring one goal.

That said, he has also been peripheral at times, flitting around the edges of the action, without influencing the outcome of matches as much as Muscat might have hoped.

Turning 33 in June, Honda is likely to continue his playing career elsewhere whilst also possibly looking to step up his coaching aspirations.