Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa – Putting The Talented Japanese Under The Microscope

I will be playing for the European Champions next season“, tweeted Eden Hazard and thereby finally ending a month-long speculation over his future where he was heavily linked with Chelsea and both the Manchester clubs. The news came as a shock, especially to the Manchester United fans as they were really expecting United to sign a midfield prodigy after the over dependence of Manchester United on Paul Scholes was clearly revealed in the second half of the 2011/12 season. So who now? if not Eden Hazard, was the question every United fan wanted to ask Sir Alex Ferguson!

Just over a month ago (a couple of days before the final round of fixtures in EPL), Sir Alex Ferguson was in Germany watching the German Cup final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in which Dortmund dismantled the European cup runner’s up 5-2 and securing a domestic double. One man in particular who was central to Dortmund’s success both in the league as well as the German Cup final was a Japanese international, named Shinji Kagawa who netted the opener and dazzled throughout the match as Sir Alex Ferguson made a personal check on him from the stands. Very few would have guessed at that time as to what was coming up in a month’s time.

A couple of weeks after Eden Hazard’s admission of joining Chelsea; Manchester United announced that they have agreed a fee to sign Shinji Kagawa from the German Champions and the transfer will be officially completed once the player passes a medical and secures a work permit for UK. In doing so, he will become the first ever Japanese player to represent Manchester United and fourth ever to ply his trade in the English Premier League after Junichi Inamoto at Fulham, Hidetoshi Nakata at Bolton and, last season, Ryo Miyaichi at Bolton. Within a couple of days, Shinji Kagawa went on being from a relative unknown to a household name with every United fan curious to know about the Japanese international.

Here is an inside look from THT on Shinji’s career so far and what does he bring to Manchester United.

Club Career

Shinji Kagawa, born on 17th March 1989 in Kobe Japan, started playing his football at the age of five. He joined Marino Football Club from 1994 to 1999, Kobe NK Football Club from 1999 to 2001, and FC Miyagi Barcelona in Sendai from 2001 to 2005. Cerezo Osaka spotted his talent in 2006 and made him sign a professional contract even before graduating high school.

In his final full season with the Japanese club plying its trade in J.League Division 2, he bagged twenty-seven goals in 44 appearances and helped promote his club to Division 1. Even the promotion to a higher division couldn’t blunt his goal output as he scored seven goals in 11 appearances the following season before the German giants Borussia Dortmund came knocking for Shinji at Cerezo Osaka’s door.

Kagawa makes the big switch

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In the summer of 2010, Kagawa transferred from Cerezo Osaka to Borussia Dortmund for 350,000 euros which proved to be an absolute bargain.  Soon after his arrival he became a crowd favorite with the German outfit. Though Kagawa missed almost the half of his first season with Dortmund in Bundesliga after he picked up an injury on international duty. His eight goals in 18 appearances was an impressive return domestically and his strong effort in the first half of the season helped Dortmund win the Bundesliga in 2011 where he also earned himself a place in Bundesliga Best 11. 

It was in his second season with Dortmund, in the absence of Mario Gotze, where he took over the mantle as a key performer for Dortmund as the club retained the title and lifted the German Cup in some style. In addition to contributing 13 goals in the league, he scored three times in the German Cup and contributed a total of seventeen goals and thirteen assists in forty-three appearances overall.

International Career

Kagawa represented his country in the 2007 Under-20 World Cup in Canada and also the 2008 Summer Olympics. The midfielder’s senior international debut came in a Kirin Cup match against Ivory Coast in 2008 but he missed out on a place in the World Cup squad two years later. Currently focused on his international duties, Kagawa was influential in a 3-0 win against Oman in a World Cup qualifier but wasn’t able to add to his goal tally of 11 goals in 33 appearances for Japan.

Strengths/Weakness And Value Added To Manchester United

Kagawa’s best playing position is just behind the striker playing in those holes between the midfield and the attack which he did so effectively with Dortmund last season and hence give United an option to free Rooney up front in a typical 4-4-1-1 formation at home and 4-5-1 formation in tough away matches, which United usually employs.  Playing in this position, he can take off a lot of weight from Rooney’s shoulders who can be left alone up front for finishing those chances. 

Also, he can be very well utilized as an impact player in this position in matches where United are in need of goals and need more creativity to unlock defences. He can come into the match for the last 30 minutes in place of a defensive midfielder and can be very influential going forward.

In addition to this, Kagawa can also play on the left where he is very effective with his international team, and it will be no surprise if we see Sir Alex tinkering with his formation to play him in a 4-3-2-1. Although, United already have Nani, Giggs and Park available in that position but what he gives extra to Sir Alex as compared to other players in that position is the extra energy required to track back and help the defence, especially in a tough European/Domestic away game just as Antonio Valencia does it at the opposite wing. Also, with Ryan Giggs probably playing the last season of his career and Park probably not at the same level as he was a couple of years ago; United needed someone to strengthen that left wing area. 

Although, from this position, Shinji Kagawa might not provide those telling crosses into the box like Giggs or make those quick darting runs like Nani but he for sure can be handful in tracking back and use his close control and consistency to get in behind the defences.  Moreover, his addition to the squad will increase the competition for  the  places, especially in that left wing and the role behind the striker area, which will consequently make the squad stronger.

Moreover, United currently have no similar players like Shinji Kagawa and hence the first thing he brings to the club is variety. He’s a bit like Samir Nasri who creates a lot of chances, but unlike the Frenchman, scores a plenty of goals himself too. So he  automatically  gives United an option of a 15-20 goal midfield player which they’ve been missing since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

However, he is not the quickest and the strongest and may find life in England a bit difficult to start with, but having known of his quick adaptation to Germany ,he should adapt to the culture and style of English football too in due course of time. Moreover, he already has an Asian player, Ji Sung Park, who had played and enjoyed tremendous success with Manchester United over the last few years and Park can certainly become his role model if he finds life difficult in England.

All in all, he looks to be a very clever signing from Sir Alex and he brings Manchester United a whole lot of options, promising to be an exciting new prospect at Old Trafford. However, he can prove his worth only by his performances on the pitch and all of us must wait and see whether he turns out to be United’s very own Samurai warrior.

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Varun Sehrawat