Analyzing Shinji Kagawa's Long-Term Role at Manchester United
There is a genuine belief within the confines of Old Trafford that Shinji Kagawa is on the verge of something special.
The Japan international has had a promising first season at Manchester United since making the move from Borussia Dortmund last summer, his potential shining through even in his more difficult moments.
In discussing what the future may hold for Kagawa, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson said "He's going to be a good player. Next season he'll be far, far better too."
This article will seek to analyse the attacking midfielder's first season and assess his long-term place with the Red Devils.
United fans will be hoping the Scotsman's prediction is proved true.
A Stuttering Campaign
Shinji Kagawa's performances in preseason for Manchester United hinted that his impact at the club would be immediate.
He was the side's best player in a 1-0 win over Shanghai Shenhua, scoring the only goal of the game behind an ineffectual Federico Macheda.
The hype machine churned into action—before Robin van Persie was signed for big bucks in August, some were claiming Kagawa would be the buy of the summer.
It was believed that he would slot in behind Wayne Rooney for the Red Devils, operating in the same advanced trequartista position that he was so effective in for Dortmund.
In Germany, he marauded between the lines, creating havoc for opposing defences and linking up well with forward Robert Lewandowski.
But Van Persie's arrival in Manchester saw Wayne Rooney effectively inhabit this role, with Kagawa rotated in and out of the team, often played out of position.
Twice he spent several weeks on the sidelines injured—just as it would seem he was poised for a fair run in the starting XI, bad luck would strike.
He has fared much better in 2013, though.
He had one of the most impressive performances by a United player—his historic hat-trick against Norwich City in early March.
In that game he fulfilled the lofty expectations, linking well with Rooney, who scored the other goal in a 4-0 rout.
He was excellent in a 2-2 draw with West Ham this month, Sir Alex saying "He’s doing very well for us now, and he made a terrific first goal" (via ManUtd.com).
His place in the team has almost become a given, his influence growing with every game.
Kagawa, the Player
The Japan international has plenty to recommend himself—his qualities suiting the Manchester United style, or at least the desired style, to a tee.
He possesses exceptional technical skill, his first touch a magnet for the ball even in the tightest of spaces.
It is in this congested area of the pitch—between the opposition lines of defence and attack—that he operates best.
He is capable of playing out wide on the left flank, drifting inside into the channel, or in a deeper role, but Kagawa's strengths are too great for him to be shifted into more unfamiliar surroundings.
The team's lack of one sufficient winger prevented others in the midfield from playing at their best—Kagawa would often float across the pitch, but received little in the way of support from the likes of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.
At Dortmund, he had Jakub Błaszczykowski, Kevin Grosskreutz and Mario Gotze to interact with, United's attacking midfield has been nothing this term compared to this all-star lineup.
Perhaps the most effective tool at Kagawa's disposal is his movement.
He makes the kind of unpredictable runs off the ball that draw opposing defenders out of positions—runs that create space for others to exploit.
His swift, one/two touch passing game gives the Red Devils the kind of continental viability they have been missing in the last couple of seasons.
If United want to make that final step towards Champions League glory in the imminent future, Kagawa should be a key attacking threat.
What the Future Holds
When Sir Alex Ferguson claims a player will be far better next season, it is easy to believe him.
One has to hope, though, whatever the potential ramifications for Wayne Rooney, that Kagawa will be mostly deployed in the hole behind Robin van Persie.
A large portion of fans of the Red Devils would like to see Rooney operating in the box-to-box role alongside Michael Carrick, or revert to playing as striker, but this is where a wealth of options creates problems for Sir Alex.
The club is likely to spend on new acquisitions in the summer—either bringing in a central midfielder or another forward to satisfy the manager's craving for goalscorers.
It is yet unclear where Sir Alex's intentions lie, but rest assured, Kagawa features in his thinking.
Some have suggested he may need to bulk up in the offseason—we all remember how Antonio Valencia went home a rake and came back an Expendable one year.
But this is a potentially risky proposition—the Old Trafford coaches wouldn't want him to lose his mobility, his innate ability to glide past defenders with ease.
He can be the modern playmaker United craves—Fergie has already spoken of his admiration for Dortmund, dubbed the "Modern Football Team" (via Daily Mail).
United have been playing catchup with Europe's best since getting beaten by Barcelona in their last trip to the Champions League final.
Kagawa hastens that chase.
The Red Devils have only four games left this season until the painful few months where not a single ball is kicked in anger in the Premier League.
Manchester United's youth should be given valuable game time, and I include the 24-year-old Shinji Kagawa in this bracket.
His United career is still very much in its burgeoning stage; his legacy yet to be crafted.
Fans are excited about what lies ahead, and they should be.
How would you rate Shinji Kagawa's first season for United? What potentially lies ahead?
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