By Connor Hammond
Creativity. It’s something that Manchester United has been crying out for for a number of years now. The lack of it has seriously hindered United in recent times but it has not escaped the manager completely. Sir Alex Ferguson spent most of last summer chasing Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder, to no avail. This only made fans’ desire for a playmaker stronger. Throughout 2011-12, any defeat or poor performance was blamed on the midfield and the fact that we still had no quality in the middle of park, compared to our neighbours Manchester City.
So, naturally, as the summer transfer window loomed toward the end of the season, the question that everybody wanted answered was whether Sir Alex would finally bring in that necessary quality? The rumour mill began with what seemed like every midfielder in Europe being linked with a move to Old Trafford. Luka Modric, Wesley Sneijder and even Rafael Van Der Vaart were mentioned. But one name slipped under the radar, Shinji Kagawa. Who? This was the reaction of the average Manchester United fan.
He was relatively unknown in England. A complete contrast to his fame over in Germany, where Shinji was taking the Bundesliga by storm. He also helped Borussia Dortmund to a Bundesliga and DFB Pokal Cup double, scoring seventeen goals on the way. So, when it was eventually announced in early June that Kagawa would be a Manchester United player, expectations were high, especially after many United fans watched him in the DFB Pokal final against Bayern Munich, Sir Alex included, where he scored one and got an assist.
Pre season arrived, and so did Shinji. Fans, including myself, were intrigued by the Japanese international. Many didn’t know where he would fit into the side. Some assumed as a playmaker, and some assumed he would take up a role on the wing, a position he was comfortable with after various outings there for Japan. Surprisingly, he was played in a ‘free’ role for much of the tour, drifting between midfield and attack.
This worked well in the first leg of the tour, where he scored his first goal for the club in China. He has been used in this role ever since with great success. Already, he has established a fantastic relationship with Wayne Rooney which was shown off in the grandest fashion in the final game of the tour against Hannover 96, where he netted a fantastic winner in the dying minutes.
At this point, it all seemed rosy, Rooney, with Kagawa just in behind, was working perfectly and could trouble defences both domestically and in Europe. However, the signing of a certain Dutchman seems to have put a spanner in the works. But is that a good thing? Could Kagawa be as good behind two strikers as he is behind one? I asked the question on Twitter and here are a few responses:
@Poptheop: “Centre-forward, he can both pass and shoot, and occasionally win a header. Robin van Persie and Rooney in front of him would be deadly!”
@VeitchMUFC: “Behind the main striker in a free attacking role, as he did with Dortmund. That position allows him to create and score goals.”
@FourFourFM: “[He should be an] attacking midfielder playing just behind Rooney, playing from deep and running through the middle before passing off/having a pop at goal!”
@PaulWW66: “Kagawa looks to me like someone who would flourish in a ‘free’ role behind the striker(s). He’d be wasted on the wing.”
Those were just some of many responses that I got from Twitter, 90% of which called for Kagawa to be utilized behind the striker(s). This was where he was used for the duration of the opening game of the season against Everton on Monday night. He was widely recognised as our best player on the night, dictating our play in the final third, with only the strikers in front of him letting him down with their sharpness, or lack of. Kagawa is certainly an interesting one and I personally look forward to seeing him over the course of yet another exciting season ahead.