When Shinji Kagawa joined Manchester United in 2012 from Borussia Dortmund, many United supporters were ecstatic upon hearing the news. Kagawa was instrumental in Dortmunds’s back-to-back Bundesliga titles and was the creative force behind their electrifying play. The attacking midfielder scored 21 goals in 49 appearances for Die Schwarzgelben as well as scoring a goal and providing an assist in Dortmund’s 5-2 victory over Bayern Munich in the 2012 DFB-Pokal Final, which secured the double for them.
The Japanese international formed a brilliant partnership with Nuri Şahin, Mario Götze, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski, which made the German side extremely formidable save for their form in the UEFA Champions League. His creativity, pace and skill were attributes that United and their fans wanted.
Sir Alex Ferguson rarely made a bad purchase, so when a player of his ilk begins to struggle, one must wonder what went wrong. Last season Kagawa only made 20 appearances, as he was struggling through injury, but in those 20 appearances, he averaged a 90% pass accuracy, scored 6 goals, assisted 3 goals, made 16 key passes and had a shooting accuracy of 75%. Those are quite good numbers for a player who missed just about half of his first season in the Premier League.
He was excellent at finding space and releasing players with accurate and well timed passes. And he worked tirelessly to fit into the team. Supporters of the Red Devils must have been pleased with Kagawa’s output in such a short span of time, and Sir Alex Ferguson definitely saw Kagawa in his first team plans.
Some would say that his fallout this season has to do with his physical conditioning and that he is not cut out for the rigors of the Premier League. This is simply not true. During his spell in the Bundesliga, Kagawa set the standard for physical conditioning. He covered more ground than any player in the Bundesliga by averaging 12.36 km per 90 minutes. Admittedly he’s not the best defensively, and he’s slight of stature, but there are plenty of hard tacklers in Germany, and he’s not a defensive player, so it’s unfair to judge him on those criteria.
Kagawa excels at playing in the number 10 role. He sits behind the striker, makes quick one-two passes with wingers and forwards, floats in and out of space and has an eye for goal. While he is a versatile player, he has been misused at Manchester United. He is by no means a winger, and for him to succeed and bring the most he can to a club he must be played in a central position so that he can orchestrate the attacks and dictate the pace of the game.
While he has the calibre to be a central attacker in the Premier League, it seems that his time at Manchester United is coming to an end. With Dortmund he was receiving deep passes from his defensive midfielders and even his defenders, which allowed him to run at opposing defenders and find pockets of space to exploit. Without service like that, he has been forced to backtrack with United, and has been playing more defensively than he should be. United’s style favors play on the wings and counter attacks through the middle, hence why Kagawa has been playing in unfamiliar territory. He is used to being the catalyst for his club so when he is not involved in every attacking movement, he is not being played to his strong suits.