Japan legend Keisuke Honda departs Cambodia role with legacy of vibrancy and excitement -- and not just from his stunning touchline fashion

In Keisuke Honda's final game in charge of Cambodia -- a narrow 2-1 loss to Indonesia at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games -- his charges were as bold on the pitch as his outfit was on the sidelines. Football Federation of Cambodia

Back in 2018, iconic Japanese playmaker Keisuke Honda created quite a stir when it was announced he would be joining the backroom staff of the Cambodia national team.

For one, then still only 32, the former CSKA Moscow and AC Milan star -- just a couple of months fresh from reaching the FIFA World Cup round of 16 with Japan -- was still plying his trade professionally having completed a move to A-League outfit Melbourne Victory around the same time.

That Cambodia were also relative minnows even on a continental and regional scale, ranked 175th in the FIFA world rankings at the time of Honda's appointment, meant the arrival of such an illustrious name in Asian football made plenty of headlines.

Then, given Honda was yet to obtain any relevant coaching qualifications, along with the fact that he would not be able to be based in Cambodia permanently or for any prolonged period of time, meant he was officially designated as the team's general manager -- even though it was obvious who really at the helm from the way he prowled the touchline and barked out orders whenever his playing calendar allowed him to join up with his charges.

On Wednesday, Honda's first foray into coaching -- or management, whichever way it is looked at -- came to an end with Cambodia's exit from the men's football tournament at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games, which they were also hosts of.

A brave but ultimately futile 2-1 loss to Indonesia saw the Cambodians finish third in Group A and miss out on the semifinals, ending a campaign that started off so brightly 11 days earlier with a 4-0 rout of Timor-Leste.

Even prior to the SEA Games, it had already been made known that it would be Honda's final assignment with Cambodia.

In fact, he was originally meant to end his association with them following the 2022 AFF Championship at the end of last year -- only to stay on in the role for another five months as the Cambodians eyed making a major impact in the first SEA Games they would be hosting.

Although, on paper at least, Cambodia are not exactly much better off from where they were when he first took over, ranked 176th in the world at present, Honda will leave behind a legacy of vibrancy and excitement -- and not just because of his stunning touchline outfits.

But they sure were something.

Ever the fashionista, from the time he graced the cover of the Japanese edition of GQ magazine way back in 2010, Honda has never been afraid to make a statement off the field as much as he did on it -- regularly seen wearing a watch on either hand, with the explanation that one was always set to the time of his home country and the other to wherever he was in the world that moment.

And as he embarked one his farewell tour with Cambodia over the last fortnight or so, it almost seemed as though the 36-year-old decided to make the SEA Games his personal fashion show with four brilliant ensembles ranging from 'beach casual' to 'fancy dinner party'.

Nonetheless, the excitement Honda brought to Cambodian football also extended to the pitch -- even if it may not be reflected in the world rankings.

Cambodia were underdogs in the past -- and it showed in their mentality.

Ultra-conservative tactics, designed in hope of a smash-and-grab win against the region's bigger boys, was part of their DNA -- as is the case for fellow minnows like Laos and Timor-Leste.

In the same way he just does not quite fancy the official team polo and trackpants combination, or even just a basic shirt and paints getup, Honda had other ideas.

Cambodia, as always has been the case, had raw talent -- players like Chan Vathanaka, Keo Sokpheng and Prak Mony Udom, who were all good enough to earn moves to the Malaysia Super League.

And while they were unlikely to be able to match it with the likes of Thailand and Vietnam over the course of 90 minutes, that did not mean they should not take the game to the heavyweights.

Of course, that mindset did have its fair share of detractors. If defeat was the likeliest outcome, would it not have been wiser to set up defensively and try to hold out for a draw?

Considering the bold nature of Honda's character, that was never going to be on the cards and yet, he made it work.

In his four and a half years in charge, the Cambodians have gone from a run-of-the-mill, below-average team in ASEAN football to an adventurous and stimulating outfit -- blessed with raw talent but now combined with belief and acumen from a man with experience at the highest level that -- that has shown the potential to catch out more-illustrious opposition.

Honda's critics will point out that his adventurous approach was severely exposed in their qualifying campaign for the most recent World Cup, where they picked up a solitary point from eight outings while conceding a staggering 44 goals - more than half of those coming in monumental 14-0 and 10-0 losses to Asian giants Iran.

Still, at last year's AFF Championship, they achieved their best-ever display as they won two matches for the first time ever, while they also did claim a historic fourth-place finish

Fashion statements do not always come off but it does not stop those attempting to make one from trying.

And while Honda is now looking for the next runway to parade his bold footballing designs, he will leave behind a dynamic, colourful legacy from his time with Cambodia.