The Japanese midfielder—who was voted as Borussia Dortmund’s best player in their title-winning 2011-12 campaign—came to Old Trafford amid a buzz of excitement and expectation. This was the signing of a creative central midfielder that the fans had been waiting for. Things were going to change in the Red Devils’ midfield from here on in.
As it turned out, that would eventually end up being far from the case. Constant injuries have plagued Kagawa during his brief tenure at the club and so far in over a year he has yet to even find himself a regular spot in the starting XI. Recently, new manager David Moyes has come under a lot of pressure from the fans for his decision to repeatedly leave the man from Japan on the United bench.
While the hero-worship that has developed around Kagawa is starting to border on the ridiculous (he is, after all, no Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi), it certainly did seem strange to this reporter that a player of his notable talents would be left out of the side.
So why has a player who demonstrated his worth in a top division like the Bundesliga suddenly found himself unable to maintain a regular first-team spot?
The answer is two successive strokes of bad luck at the start of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
In 2012-13 this came in the form of the acquisition of a certain Robin van Persie.
Kagawa was always meant to be playing in an incredibly offensive position in the United midfield—just in-behind Wayne Rooney, who would occupy the center-forward slot.
This exact role was what saw the Japanese international achieve the great success he did during his time with BVB. Playing just behind Robert Lewandowski, Kagawa was able to drift into the box and coolly slot home after link-up play with the Polish forward on several occasions. In this role he also acted as a creator, most commonly supplying the Pole with goal-scoring chances as he pressed forward.
Sir Alex never planned on—or even would have dreamt about—signing a player like van Persie until well after the Kagawa transfer had already been wrapped up. His move to United was a huge shock across the league as a whole, and too good an opportunity for the Red Devils to pass up. It was also a hugely unfortunate piece of timing for Shinji.
It is highly notable that the best performance Kagawa has thus far exhibited in a United shirt came in a game where RVP was rested. With Rooney occupying his more favoured center-forward position, Kagawa finally got the chance to take-up the central-attacking duty he so craved. The resulting hat-trick was a testament to what the 24-year-old can produce when given the right opportunity.
Unfortunately for Kagawa—with RVP featuring heavily and Wayne Rooney often being selected ahead of him—it meant that he would be relegated down to the bench for a lengthy period of time during his first season for the club. An injury he sustained during the season also didn’t help, as it meant that even when Sir Alex might have wanted to throw him a bone, he was unable to.
This summer there was probably nobody praying harder for Rooney to eventually end up leaving the club than Kagawa himself. With his exit, the Japanese midfielder could have returned to his favoured position in the side and no doubt would have been one of the first names on the teamsheet every week. As it turned out, Rooney would eventually elect to stay at United.
Despite being a notable set-back, this wasn’t totally disastrous for Kagawa. After all, during his time at Dortmund he showed a great versatility, being able to play across a variety of positions in their midfield.
So, with the 2013-14 season approaching and a new manager to impress, the last thing that Shinji would have wanted is to pick up an injury in pre-season. Of course, owing to his seemingly terrible luck since his arrival, this is exactly what happened.
Sir Alex Ferguson gave a lengthy interview at the press release of his new book unveiling, where he was questioned on why Kagawa has failed to make it into the first-team under Moyes regularly so far this year.
According to the Daily Mail, he said:
He got a little injury early on which has curtailed his appearances so far but I'm sure as the season wears on he will play plenty of football. He is a very good footballer. It's one of those situations when if you don't get on the bus right away you miss it. I don't think the injury is serious so hopefully he will play a part.
Ferguson’s insight into exactly what is going on in regards to the Moyes-Kagawa relationship should have now shined a light on the situation.
It would seem that the slight niggle picked up prior to the start of the season was serious enough to keep the midfielder out of David Moyes’ initial plans and not—as many fans have been speculating—some kind of personal grievance.
With the stellar performance that Kagawa put in against Real Sociedad (again a game that did not involve RVP) in the UEFA Champions League, it would appear as though he has now finally caught up with “the bus.”
For his efforts, Shinji was rewarded with a place in the starting line-up against Stoke City this weekend (albeit once again out of position).
A mediocre performance was enough to see him being omitted from Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup tie against Norwich. This suggests that he is being rested for the far greater task of tackling Fulham in the EPL this coming matchday.
While I’m certain this does not in any way mean that Kagawa has finally secured a regular spot in the first team, it does at least hint that he is on his way to doing so.
It’s unlikely that the man who was so prolific for Borussia Dortmund will ever show the same levels of success for United if he continues to be played deeper in the midfield—but if he continues to adapt to this new position, he can easily challenge the lacklustre talent he is competing with for first-team football.
The real question is: Should he even bother staying at the club if this is the case? I’ll leave that one for you guys to decide.