It all started with such promise. A young Japanese attacking midfielder moves to one of the biggest clubs in the world after two impressive seasons under an up-and-coming manager at one of Europe’s most likeable teams. The time seemed right for Shinji Kagawa to begin the next chapter of his career learning the ins and outs of Premier League football under the tutelage of one Sir Alex Ferguson.
It goes without saying that things haven’t really gone to plan. Kagawa struggled with injuries and never really convinced in his first season (although he did show flashes like a hat trick against Norwich), and this season, under new manager David Moyes, he has been a peripheral figure with just a handful of starts and even fewer opportunities to play in his preferred number 10 position. Perhaps Moyes is unconvinced by Kagawa’s qualities. Perhaps Moyes just needs somebody stronger and more athletic for his style of play. Whatever the reason, following the signing of Juan Mata in the winter transfer window, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Kagawa will have to leave Old Trafford to get more regular playing time. But just where should he go?
To answer this question, it’s important to know what type of player Kagawa is. Although he considers himself a number 10, Kagawa is not in the same mold as most Premier League playmakers. Conventional number 10’s – your Mesut Ozil’s, Wayne Rooney’s and David Silva’s – are players that love to have the ball at their feet, pick out through balls, take on defenders, and generally be the center of attention. Kagawa is very different. Although he occupies a similar area of the pitch, he is all about quick one-two’s and darting runs, always there to help out and provide an option. His constant movement makes him hard to track and he generally likes to receive the ball on the move and shift it quickly. His value is not in his dribbling ability, strength, or pace but in his elusiveness, quick thinking, and selfless play.
This is not to say that Kagawa is just a helper. He scored 29 goals in two seasons for Borussia Dortmund and has scored 17 goals for the Japan national team. When his confidence is high, he can, in his own way, become the fulcrum of a side – like a moving wall drifting around the pitch as teammates bounce passes off his nimble feet, creating space and building attacking moves. With this in mind, there are three teams in the Premier League that I think would perfectly suit Kagawa, both in terms of playing style and his need for playing time.