When the transfer of Shinji Kagawa was announced, I thought that it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s first step to change the heavily winger based system at Manchester United towards a more fluid system. Otherwise, the transfer made very little sense to me.
The problem was that the next steps never came and Kagawa suffered from that. It did not help that some United fans had false expectations of him. They thought that bringing him in would solve the movement problems and modernise the system. Suddenly, he was claimed to be the Bundesliga player of the season, the creative centre of Dortmund and the guy their system was built around. All these claims are inaccurate.
People criticise him for not imposing himself enough on the game, for not taking charge and creating enough but he was never much of a lead player at Dortmund. That was not really a problem because a team does not need ten of these and he was an extremely skilled role player. The before mentioned tasks of being the lead creator were taken over by other players like Sahin, Hummels, Götze and Gündogan.
Kagawa could turn a decent playing side into a great playing one but when there was no spark he struggled. His job was not to create the spark but to make the fire stronger.
This is also why he sometimes disappeared on the pitch when the overall play was dire. Kagawa could turn a decent playing side into a great playing one but when there was no spark he struggled. His job was not to create the spark but to make the fire stronger. I remember someone calling him a multiplier in the past which fit his role very well.
Unfortunately, his role of a pressing, very offensive minded central midfielder does not exist at United in that form. His greatest strength, besides his pressing ability, was being able to find spaces in the centre no matter how busy it was and it gave Dortmund the option to play through the centre and use him as a constant pass option. United’s tendency to play it out wide more often than not doesn’t play to his style.
I also doubt if he would be mentally strong enough to carry a team. He has struggled for months now with his confidence and it affects his play greatly. His normally existing goal threat is completely gone. Maybe he needs the constant support he had from his former coach to really deliver and that may have made it hard for him at a club of the size of United because you have to draw confidence from somewhere, even if you don’t get it from the staff.
As it stands now, I don’t see much future for him at United. For his sake, I can only hope that he finds a club where he can resume his former role and show his strengths again.
Sphaero is a lifelong Borussia Dortmund fan who watched Shinji Kagawa in the Bundesliga, so he is fantastically placed to give a different perspective on Kagawa’s career at Old Trafford.