Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie haven’t been together on the pitch very often this season.
We’ve got a guest post for you today, on the use – or misuse – of Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United, by someone who has very strong opinions on the matter. This one is sure to stir up lots of debate, so feel free to discuss (no abuse!) in the comments. Enjoy.
Cast your mind back to the end of the 2011/12 season, when United have just been pipped to the title by rivals, Manchester City. The impending arrival of Shinji Kagawa seemed a genuine cause for excitement, after what was an excruciating finish to the season. Finally, it appeared that United were moving away from the long-favoured and, frankly, outdated 4-4-2, with wingers hugging the touchline. Kagawa’s arrival seemed to be the first step in moving towards a more modern, fluid, 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Japanese superstar lining up behind Wayne Rooney. Later that summer, however, it became clear that Robin Van Persie wanted a move to United and Sir Alex Ferguson, understandably, couldn’t turn down the chance to sign the previous season’s star performer in the league. For Shinji Kagawa, though it wasn’t known at the time, this was the beginning of the end of his Manchester United career.
At the end of the 2011/12 season, the Japanese star had just been voted the best player in the Bundesliga, ahead of the likes of Robben, Ribery, Schweinsteiger, Gotze, Lewandowski and countless others – all of whom have gone on to have considerable success on both domestic and European fronts. Kagawa finished the season with a total of 17 goals and 10 assists while playing in his favoured number 10 role at Borussia Dortmund. He was revered throughout German football and after only a handful of Dortmund appearances, then team-mate Nuri Sahin said of him, “the boy plays like an angel”. In his debut Bundesliga season alone, Kagawa had made an instant impact, with 8 goals and 1 assist in 25 Dortmund appearances.
Things were looking promising for Kagawa and many United fans saw him as the missing piece of the puzzle. However, after the arrival of Van Persie, and Wayne Rooney’s almost ever present status in the United team, what has since transpired in the next season and a half, has been nothing short of a complete misuse of a player who was previously one of European football’s most promising young talents.
Kagawa featured 26 times for Manchester United in his debut season, contributing 6 goals and 5 assists. Whilst a reasonable return from a relatively good first season in English football, it tells nothing of the deployment of the playmaker, who was almost exclusively used from the left-wing, and subsequently, his displays in no way matched those he had given for Dortmund in the previous 2 seasons. Move on to the current season and Kagawa’s performances have regressed even further. Featuring only 15 times for United, Kagawa has struggled for form and of course a disappointing return of 0 goals and 0 assists. As alluded to however, the caveat has to be the way in which he has been used. Played infrequently, mostly from the left, and often substituted part-way through – despite appearing to be performing at a satisfactory level – it seems clear that Kagawa does not fit in the plans of David Moyes. This relationship then, appears to be heading towards only one conclusion; the sale of Kagawa.
The arrival of Juan Mata – a player whose best position is also the number 10 role, but another who appears to be likely to be deployed wide in order to accommodate Rooney – seems likely to hasten Kagawa’s departure. For me, this is a huge disappointment; United would likely be a considerably more effective, and a much more fluent attacking threat, were they to deploy an interchangeable attacking 3 of Januzaj, Mata and Kagawa, behind either Rooney or Van Persie. Rooney’s continual deployment in the number 10 role is to the detriment of the team’s attacking play. There’s no question that Rooney is a good player, however he’s not likely to find the intricate final ball that United need to cut open solid, packed defences – which has been an obvious struggle this season. And although Rooney’s work rate and tracking back is an often praised attribute, in Kagawa’s last season at Dortmund he averaged 1.2 tackles per game, which puts paid to the notion that he’s simply a lightweight attacking player. In the past 4 seasons, Rooney hasn’t averaged higher than 0.7 tackles per game. Rooney’s goal return is also something which doesn’t merit his position as a certain starter (not to mention £300k p/w!) – 2 league goals in his last 10 starts, 6 league goals since November 1st and just 3 goals all season against teams in the top half of the league.
I hope Kagawa goes on to have great success at whatever team he finds himself next. I’ve no doubt that, if used correctly, he will be a major asset to them. Kagawa has been the consummate professional in his time at United. He’s worked hard, tried to develop his game and adapt to the Premier League, and been critical of himself and his own performances – despite the fact he’s been underused and continually played out of position. I only hope his seemingly inevitable departure – of a fantastic, mismanaged talent – does not come back to haunt us in the future.
Here’s a short video of Kagawa laying on some inch perfect passes, only for United team-mates to somehow make a shambles of putting the chance away. If only our other attackers could deliver final balls like these, as opposed to the dross we’ve been subjected to this season.