Shinji Kagawa arrived at Old Trafford last summer for a fee that could yet rise to £17m. He was the star of the Borussia Dortmund team that had just won back to back Bundesliga titles, having scored 21 goals in a season and a half of being a starter. He was set to be a major star at Manchester United, where he was to be the first ever Japanese player. Kagawa was signed to offer United more attacking threat as Sir Alex Ferguson was put out at having lost the title on goal difference to Manchester City the season before and swore that never again would he manage a United side that would be outscored.
Kagawa was signed to bring his penetrative running, elegance movement, creative passing and most importantly, goalscoring to the number 10 position as an ideal compliment to Wayne Rooney. But then Robin van Persie became available and everything changed. Ferguson moved to a system in which Kagawa was largely played out wide in order to accommodate both star strikers.
He gained some momentum before getting injured and when given a central starting position, he showed exactly what he can do. Six goals in his opening season was a decent enough effort but United will want much more from him in front of goal. He has, after all, scored 92 in 223 games, a strike rate most strikers would be proud of. David Moyes’s appointment could be just what Kagawa needs to become the star United thought they’d bought.
Shinji Kagawa was signed to play behind a lone striker with two wide midfielders either side of him in the 4-2-3-1 system at United. He has the ideal skill set for this role. He’s quick and agile, makes clever runs off the ball and has superb vision when in possession and this combines to give us a player capable of both scoring and making goals in heavy quantity.
It says everything for his pedigree that he was the star man in a Dortmund side that included Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze. He made himself the star in that team. Last season, mostly because he wasn’t played in his favoured position, he wasn’t able to exert such influence at United. Perhaps he was intimidated at his big move, or perhaps it was because he was arriving at a club that wasn’t his.
He arrived in Germany as Dortmund were building a fabulous young team, but a team of players who still weren’t stars. They all developed together and he became the biggest star in the side. At United, he arrived at a club full of them.
This season could be a different story. David Moyes has played with an out and out striker with a supporting attacking midfielder for several years at Everton. Although he recently used Marouane Fellaini in the role, he always wanted to use Steven Pienaar in there and it served as one of the motivations in signing Kevin Mirallas last year as well. Pienaar is possessed with the same kind of guile and fluidity as Kagawa and Moyes got the South African playing the best football of his career for him and will surely look to use Kagawa as his main man in midfield.
With question marks over the future of Wayne Rooney, Kagawa’s main competition for the number 10 role is in doubt. Even if United signed Thiago Alcantara, he would be brought in to play deep and set the tempo. Kagawa looks like being United’s number 10.
The big advantage of using Kagawa behind van Perise, is that the Japanese has the vision and ability to pick out the variety of van Persie’s runs. Last season, Ferguson felt that even despite van Persie’s excellent goal return, he wasn’t being picked out well enough. At times, Kagawa and the Dutchman showed signs of clicking together. If they keep improving this relationship, United could have as good an attacking duo as any team in Europe. This could go in the other direction too, as when van Persie pulls out wide, Kagawa can get in the box and score goals.
United need Kagawa to become what they hoped they were getting when they bought him because he brings something no other players at the club have. His gliding and dangerous running in central areas would give them a subtlety that they don’t currently have. In tight areas, his close ball control and ability to find passes is a skill all of his own at the club.
He also could bring goals to an United midfield which badly struggled for them last season. At times, the goal scoring burden fell entirely on van Persie, or even the defenders, rather than the midfield. Kagawa is more than capable of getting 13-16 goals in a season if he played in behind van Perise. If David Moyes trusts Kagawa to be the club’s number 10, and gives him creative license, he will show what made him so desired when at Dortmund and give United another seriously dangerous option in attack.