Shinji Kagawa arrived at Manchester United as a second-choice signing to Eden Hazard, almost considered an after-thought to the flashy Belgian even before he signed on the dotted line. United fans defiantly protected their signing as only passionate fans can, fending off any suggestions that Kagawa was going to struggle to adapt to the Premier League given his slight frame and the fact that he’s most adept at playing in the same role as the one in which Wayne Rooney excels.
But a quite superb pre-season with the squad turned a few heads back in England, the former Borussia Dortmund star showing his worth playing in behind a lone striker and starring in ‘the hole’.
Those who have been following the Bundesliga closely in the last couple of season would tell you that there was no doubt about Kagawa’s ability and adaptability. He had 2 fantastic seasons at Dortmund, the second of which was his best given Dortmund were without Mario Gotze for most of the season. Manager Jurgen Klopp admitted they hadn’t missed Gotze too badly – a bigger compliment could not have been made to Kagawa’s talent.
So when he arrived at Old Trafford, the biggest question was where would he play and how would Sir Alex Ferguson change his system to accommodate him? From what we have witnessed so far, even Sir Alex is at a loss to get the best out of his summer signing.
We have seen Kagawa start behind the main striker on the opening day at Everton – a role he excelled in, we have seen him shifted to the left wing to accommodate Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in the system and on Sunday against Newcastle, Kagawa often found himself on the right of a lopsided United midfield. He has openly admitted that he is at his best when playing off the striker, his elegant technique more suited to opening up defences rather than starting attacks.
Kagawa is remarkably talented at finding pockets of space between the opposition defence and midfield, his vision best utilized when linking the midfield and attack. He has scored 2 and assisted 2 goals in 7 games so far, not a bad start for a Premier League novice. But there is a general feeling that he hasn’t quite hit the heights he is capable of. Patience is a luxury ill-afforded in football these days, an immediate return on investment expected in the world of multimillion Pound deals.
Sir Alex has a wealth of attacking options at his disposal this season, a clear signal that the Premier League title will not be lost on goal difference this season. But while Robin van Persie has taken to United’s system like duck to water, Ferguson has struggled to bed in Shinji Kagawa, his role in the starting XI still unclear. With Rooney seemingly having found his devastating form of late, Kagawa’s task has become harder. Only time will tell whether he will find his feet at Old Trafford or become another luxurious failure. One certainly hopes it’s the former.