I will be the first to admit when the Bundasliga Player Of The Year signed for us in the summer of 2012 for £12 Million I was squealing with joy. Okay, maybe not squealing but you understand! I was beside myself with happiness! I had previously been a fan of the Japanese play-a-maker (yes that is an @evilkagawa reference) and had already watched him play a few times at Dortmund under Klopp and he had unpressed me every time.
Why Was He Successful At Dortmund?
His eye to thread a pass was second to none in that Dortmund team. This ability to have the vision and the ability to pass was one of the main reasons at Dortmund, he was one of the world’s best No.10’s. His play behind Lewandowski was phenomenal and led the Ruhr side to Bundasliga and DFB Pokal titles ahead of Bayern Munich. He was able to do this because he had exceptional service from deep through the likes of Nuri Sahin and Ilkay Gundagon. This allowed his team to hold possession and boss games. He also had two slightly wider players in the forms of Blaszczykowski and Mario Gotze. His partnership with Gotze was one I particularly liked. The pair were essentially both playmakers and although technically in terms of position Gotze was slightly wider than Kagawa, he drifted in and played some delicate one touch passes, a few dummies and some knock downs among other delicate pieces of play. This was also true of Lewandowski who could also join in with Dortmund’s sophisticated play and more often than not, finish it off with a goal. Jakub Blaszczykowski was a wider player than Kagawa and was used to create space and run down the flanks with his exceptional pace. Kuba himself was also very much involved in Dortmund’s one touch play however this was really Kagawa’s and Gotze’s forte! Kagawa also had the ability to finish which we don’t see enough of at United! He had a great shot and could more often than not put the goal in the back of the net when he had the opportunity. He was by no means a Lewandowski but then again not many are! So what happened to this goal scoring technical and creative playmaker at United?
What Happened at United?
First of all lets get 2 things straight off the bat, there were a major factor in Shinji’s loss of form. Lack of playing time in his correct position and a complete change in environment and playing style.
Even the most die hard fans will admit that currently Man Utd’s Central Midfield is not as good as Dortmund’s. We may outclass them on aspects such as our strike force but they have us on the midfield. Gundagon, Sahin and even Hummels are perhaps rather unsurprisingly rather good holders of possession and can start an attack from the deep. United’s midfield struggles to do that as has become quite evident this season thus Kagawa has had to drop back deeper to get a touch of the ball. This has resulted in him dropping off from the areas further up where he is most effective. This is the problem he faces when he starts (which is rare) in his preferred CAM position. Despite this he still manages to show us some tantalizing tastes of his talent specially against Real Sociedad when he moved into the CAM role!
To make matters worse for Kagawa, due to Rooney’s emergence as the new United No.10 he has had to play out wide on the LW which is rather ineffective (aside from that hat trick against Norwich. It was one of the highlights of my season) most of the time. He struggles as he lacks the physical body strength required of a winger in the premier league and is thus bullied of the ball out wide, where he is out of his element. It is a similar situation we face with Mata. They both are the same type of players! Both CAM’s ideally, who can fill in as wide players! The honest fact is that there are much better LW’s than Kagawa and Mata however there are very few better CAM’s than Kagawa and Mata, the former was one of the best in the world and the latter is one of the best in the world. The acquisition of Mata has made the possibility of Shinji playing competitively in the Red even slimmer and even when he does he will be unable to showcase his talent as he will be playing on the LW. It is truly heartbreaking for Kagawa fans like me to see such a bright prospect who is still 24 to be misused like this. I can not foresee unfortunately a much better prospect for Mata either, unless one of our front men Rooney or RVP is sold allowing one to move upfront allowing Mata to slot in as CAM. This is however unlikely. This or we play something similar to Dortmund which is a flexible and open 4-2-3-1 where you play 3 playmakers one providing a bit of width behind a striker. I have written more about this here (so have a look if you’re interested).
Out of position, Out of love and out of his element. The days of cheering for the Japanese playmaking maestro near the end, in my opinion, unless he can somehow repeat his Norwich heroics! He is still determined to make a success of things as his agent has recently come out saying he will fight for his place in the starting XI. What is the point of fighting a losing battle Shinji?
So Why Did We Buy Him Anyway?
He was bought before RVP was a Man Utd player and the idea was he would slot in behind Rooney (who would play upfront) to provide the creativity United were craving even in 2012. When RVP forced his way onto the market, he was a player too good to refuse for Sir Alex. Rooney dropped a bit deeper in Kagawa’s position and Kagawa was found lingering on the fringes of the pitch, mostly on the left side. After his return from his two month injury he was more often found in a rather unfamiliar position, the bench. He was the forgotten one. These are however my opinions! Yours may be vastly different, so let me know in the comments! Also be sure to check the poll question below!
Do you still think that Kagawa has what it takes to succeed at United?