Perth Glory superstar Diego Castro is set to face-off against Japanese legend Keisuke Honda when Melbourne Victory visit HBF Park on Saturday 30 March (grab your tickets HERE).
The highly-anticipated Hyundai A-League clash sees the league leaders from the West take on last year’s star-studded champions.
And with Glory sitting nine points clear of the chasing pack and Victory occupying third spot, the stakes could hardly be higher.
The head-to-head duel between Castro and Honda is sure to catch the attention of fans all around country, with the foreign marquee stars having forged strong reputations in Europe and continued to dazzle since bringing their immense talent to the Hyundai A-League.
In anticipation of the match-up, we reflect upon the very different career paths of the two protagonists, one beginning in 1982 in Spain’s north-west and the other in 1986, in the Settsu Province of Osaka.
The very beginning: two sporting families grow bigger
In 1982, Castro was born in Pontevedra in Spain’s forest-filled Galicia province, the same year his father Fernando Castro Santos’ professional managerial career began at local side Pontevedra CF in Spain’s fourth tier.
As Diego started his career at AJ Lerez, Fernando would see his career blossom in Spain, managing a miracle promotion to La Liga for Sociedad Deportivo de Compostela in 1994, when Castro was 12. Fernando went on to manage Celta Vigo, Sevilla, CD Tenerife and SC Braga in Portugal through Castro’s youth career.
Note: We wrote a feature article on Fernando Castro Santos last season - click here to read it.
Meanwhile, in 1986 in Osaka, a legend of Japanese football was born.
Very different to the forests and quaint coastline of Galicia, Keisuke Honda was born and raised in the inner-city prefecture of Settsu, just outside the heart of the major Japanese city.
Honda’s family contributed to Japanese sports in the Olympics; great uncle Daisaburo as a semi-final canoeist in Tokyo 1964 and cousin Tamon as a professional wrestler in Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992.
As a boy, Keisuke Honda joined Gamba Osaka, but failed to make their youth team in 2002, opting to play for his local Seiryo High School instead.
The breakthrough: Honda moves to Europe, Castro faces Real Madrid
Castro’s La Liga breakthrough came after five years of regular appearances in Spain’s third division, meaning the younger Honda broke into first division football before the Spaniard.
Where Honda went, Honda impressed.
He took a year to become a first-team footballer at Nagoya Grampus, where he made 90 appearances and his form in the J-League swiftly sealed him a move to VVV-Venlo, for whom he played a sporadic role in his first season.
In 2005-06, meanwhile, Castro would make his breakthrough into the Malaga CF first team.
After over 60 appearances for Malaga B in Spain’s third division, Head Coach Manolo Hierro gave him his big break at the age of 23.
Castro made his La Liga debut on the December 6 2005 against CA Osasuna, coming on in the 54th minute for star striker Edgar.
Despite a 2-1 defeat, Hierro retained Castro in his squad for the following game; a home clash with the mighty Real Madrid.
Just a fortnight previously, Castro was playing in front of a few thousand people for Malaga B in the less than glamorous third division.
Now, he was suddenly on the bench for a sold-out match at Malaga’s La Rosaleda Stadium on the banks of the Guadalmedina river.
Real Madrid’s line-up that day included the likes of Iker Casillas, Roberto Carlos, Sergio Ramos, Guti, Robinho, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo (the Brazilian original).
With ten minutes left and his side trailing 2-0, Castro was introduced to the fray and asked to pit his wits against some of the world’s best, something he’d continue to do throughout his La Liga career.
Returning to the Netherlands, Honda’s big break came in his second season at VVV-Venlo. ‘Kaizer Keisuke’ (King Keisuke, as he affectionately dubbed by the Venlo fans) scored an impressive 16 goals in 36 league appearances, forging a deadly trio with Sandro Calabro and Samir El Gaaouiri which yielded a total of 53 goals.
This secured the Dutch side’s immediate promotion to the Eredivisie, winning the Eerste Division by a whopping nine points and the eyes of Europe’s big clubs were inevitably drawn to the 22-year-old Japanese sensation.
The first move: Castro to Sporting Gijon, Honda to CSKA Moscow
In 2006-07, Castro decided it was time to secure more regular first-team football.
So as Australia played out their famous FIFA World Cup campaign in Germany, he made the move closer to home to second-division Sporting Gijon in Spain’s Asturias region, just three-and-a-half hours away from his home town of Pontevedra.
It proved to be a masterstroke.
The attacker barely missed a beat for the ‘Rojiblancos’, appearing over 30 times each in his first four seasons at El Molinon. He was instrumental in their remarkable 2007-08 Segunda Division campaign under Manuel Preciado, when the club secured promotion on the last day of the season with 2-0 victory over Eibar.
Once again Castro was in La Liga, but this time as a key player.
He established himself as a La Liga star over the next three seasons in Gijon’s red and white colours, scoring 25 goals in 95 appearances.
Nine of those came in his final season with Sporting, during which they ended Jose Mourinho’s nine-year undefeated streak at home with a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu and secured the club’s highest-ever final position of tenth in the top flight.
By 2010 up in the Netherlands, Honda was in fine form for VVV-Venlo, scoring six goals in 18 matches as a winger in the club’s return to the Dutch top flight and then starring for Japan at that year’s World Cup in South Africa.
Those performances persuaded Russian giants CSKA Moscow to come calling and a rumoured fee of six million euro persuaded Venlo to let Honda head east.
He was an immediate success.
Added straight into the UEFA Champions League squad, Honda scored from a free kick in the second leg of the Round of 16 away to Sevilla as the Russian side prevailed 3-2 on aggregate to advance to the quarter-finals. They were subsequently eliminated by eventual champions Inter Milan, but their 2009-2010 run remains CSKA’s best performance in a UEFA Champions League tournament to date. And there was still so much yet to come from CSKA’s gifted recruit.
Join us again later this week for part 2 of the article, detailing the rest of the careers of the two Hyundai A-League stars set to do battle on Saturday 30 March at HBF Park in Perth.