The Shinji Kagawa fascination: What is it about the diminutive Japanese?

Blog by: Parth
Manchester United v Wigan Athletic - FA Community Shield

For someone who has made only 27 appearances for Manchester United so far, Shinji Kagawa sure has a strong fan following. Why, it has been only three games into the new season and fans are already voicing their concerns about Kagawa’s lack of playing time under David Moyes.

Whilst it is far too short-sighted to blame David Moyes for Kagawa’s conspicuous absence from the playing XI this season, it does bring to light the fascination Manchester United fans have for their latest Asian import.

There was a time when such adulation was reserved for Wayne Rooney, but it is safe to say that at this moment in time, the torch has been passed on and Shinji Kagawa is the ultimate fan favourite at Old Trafford.

So what is it about the Japanese playmaker that draws the fans to him like moths to a light? His statistics from last season make for good reading, but there is nothing outstanding in here – 20 appearances, 6 goals and 3 assists. Hardly what you would call world-class.

There is nothing that suggests Kagawa is more valuable to Manchester United than Eden Hazard is to Chelsea, David Silva is to Manchester City or Santi Cazorla is to Arsenal.

No. Viewed from a distance, Shinji Kagawa is simply a very good player in an already very good team, but that’s about it.

Yet, if you talk to Manchester United fans about Kagawa, you would be met with descriptions ranging from “out of this world” to “the best player in the team bar none” to “the most exciting player to arrive at Old Trafford since Ronaldo”. A staggering array of superlatives for someone who is yet to notch 30 games for his club!

Perhaps it is Kagawa’s humble, down-to-earth, team player image that resonates with the fans, or maybe it’s his silky, pass-and-move playing style that leaves the viewers in awe. But make no mistake, there is something about this player that makes the fans swoon and leaves them wanting for more.

Fan-worship like this would normally be associated with rockstars and celebrities, but certainly not for a footballer who is yet to play a major part in a title success or put in a match-winning performance or cement a permanent spot in the first team.

So, while the player continues to be stuck in the limbo of uncertainty, his reputation amongst the fans keeps rising with each passing day. A strange phenomenon, and one that has not been seen at Manchester United for a very long time.

And perhaps that is our first clue towards finding out what makes Shinji Kagawa such a fan favourite.

Manchester United have enjoyed tremendous success in the last 5-6 years, but apart from the heydays of Ronaldo and Tevez and the delightful play of Berbatov, there hasn’t been a player who has set the stands alight with his play. Robin van Persie has certainly brought a lot to the team after joining from Arsenal, but then by scoring 30-odd goals he is simply doing his job, albeit in a magnificent, effortless manner.

Flair is perhaps not the best word, but it is the first one that comes to mind when we talk of what is missing in this particular Manchester United squad.

Take a quick glance at the current team and you realise that there is simply no one who is capable of skinning a defender (like Eden Hazard does), turning on a six pence and playing in a defence-splitting pass (like David Silva does) or playing a quick one-two and letting loose a piledriver from outside the box (like Santi Cazorla does).

This is by far the most obvious difference between all the big teams and Manchester United. There is no creative fulcrum, no flair, and little imagination in their play. It’s like a robotic, boxy team that relies on efficiency, mutual understanding and a lethal striker waiting for service to guide them to a win.

Again, doing just enough to win, but not enough to thrill and win.

And this is where Kagawa comes in. To put it mildly, Shinji Kagawa is a player who puts bums on seats and then brings those very fans to their feet by his easy-on-the-eye yet exciting-for-the-heart play. A gentle layoff here, an audacious flick there – Kagawa is head and shoulders above his teammates when it comes to pleasing the average match-going fan.

Manchester United v Sevilla - Rio Ferdinand Testimonial

The aesthetic value a player adds to a team cannot be underplayed, and the fact that his tricks and flicks are not merely ornamental in nature but instead improve the quality of the build-up is enough to pass judgement on Kagawa.

Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed that Eric Cantona was someone who “unlocked the attacking potential of the team” by simply training and playing regularly with his team-mates. Great players make average players look very good, and in a Manchester United side that has too many average players but not enough good players, Kagawa’s presence could very well have the same impact as Cantona, metaphorically speaking.

So, while David Moyes might be perplexed at the outpour of anger with regards to Kagawa’s omission from the first team barely a month into the season, he has a chance to calm the frayed nerves and improve the attacking department of the side in one go, simply by playing Kagawa week in, week out.

The message from the fans to David Moyes could not be clearer – less of the usual bland, predictable football, and more of Shinji Kagawa magic please. And David Moyes would do well to heed that advice, for the fans’ sake and his team’s.

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