Manchester United: A Japanese Expert On Why Kagawa Will Be The Next Best Or Ronaldo
Shinji Kagawa was already playing for Barcelona when he was 12 years old - FC Miyagi Barcelona in Sendai, Japan, that is. This Kobe-born (well, technically, Tarumi-born, a Kobe suburb, but I am not letting that get in the way of me saying he is from my hometown!) football protégé had already turned heads at that early age and, eventually signed professional forms with Cerezo Osaka before finishing high school.
He became a lynchpin of a young Cerezo side in division 2 of the J.League and, while the Osaka team narrowly missed out on promotion three years in-a-row, they finally made it back into the top flight in 2010. Kagawa had come close to a goal every other game over a century-plus of appearances, including 27 in 44 games in that successful promotion-winning season, and J1 defences soon found out he was the real deal as he notched seven goals in his 11 J1 games before boarding the plane for Germany.
It was clear in that first season in J2 that this teenager was destined to be a star. Veterans of the team gushed praise, TV stations clamoured to get him on their shows and the fans wearing Kagawa on their backs soon outnumbered others, by far. When long-serving Cerezo Osaka and Japan hero Hiroaki Morishima retired, after 17 years at the club, Kagawa was given the coveted no.8 shirt – a huge honour for the player, and a bold statement from the club on the faith that they had in this youngster.
After Kagawa announced he was leaving the club, attendances rose as fans clamoured to see their hero one more time in the pink shirt of Cerezo
Even now, after two successful campaigns far away in Germany and a move to England on the cards, one can still see countless Kagawa no.8 shirts on the terraces at a Cerezo Osaka game – such is the adulation for their hero.
What is even more amazing – especially to those outside Japan who don’t know of the adulation bestowed upon their heroes by the Japanese fans – is that, after Kagawa announced he was leaving the club, attendances rose as fans clamoured to see their hero one more time in the pink shirt of Cerezo. They did not come to pour scorn upon him, or call him a traitor. They did not come to accuse him of deserting their team just as things had begun to look promising. They didn’t look down upon the youngster, thinking his head had been turned by money… they turned up in their thousands to see him on his way! In his final game in the J.League – which I witnessed firsthand – the average attendance was left way behind and, as Kagawa took a lap of honour around the field – collecting countless presents, letters, bunches of flowers – the away fans - who had just seen their team beaten by, you couldn’t have scripted it better, a winning goal from Kagawa – gave the player a standing ovation and chanted his name! Only in Japan!
Reports suggest that Dortmund offered to triple his salary if he extended his contract
Thanks in part to the strength of player agents in Japan, and the weakness and inexperience of clubs who are left with little choice but to accept contracts that heavily favour the freedom of the player (allowing the agent to shop the player around cheaply), Borussia Dortmund paid a reported fee of just 350,000 Euros – due to a release clause in his contract if it was for a move abroad – and the 23-year-old midfielder played a key role in Borussia Dortmund's two championships in-a-row, including the Double-winning success of 2011-12. The Bundesliga team were very reluctant to allow him to leave, however, with just a year left on his contract, and the player making public his desire to move to the Premier League, they had to sell or risk losing him for free in 2013. Reports suggest that Dortmund offered to triple his salary if he extended his contract, so it is clear that money is not the top priority for the talented Japanese.
“Manchester United is delighted to announce that it has agreed terms with both Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Kagawa for his transfer to the Club,” read a statement from Manchester United today… “The deal is subject only to the player medical and obtaining a UK work permit. These conditions are anticipated to be completed by the end of June.”
While that work permit may not be guaranteed, due to a metatarsal injury that forced him out of Japan’s triumphant Asian Cup campaign in 2011 – surely the “player of special talent” loophole that has been used in the past can come to the rescue! If ever there was a “special talent”, then Shinji Kagawa is it! Upon returning from that injury he still managed to get back to full fitness and core – regularly - making the Bundesliga team of the Year!
While Kagawa has been racking up the goals and the medals in Germany, he has not been neglecting those fans of his in his homeland and recently became the youngest ever player to reach ten goals for his country. In less than 30 games. From midfield. How can anyone doubt that this dynamic playmaker will succeed in the Premier League!?
I’ve been watching since this kid first strode out in a Cerezo Osaka shirt. He’ll do the red of Manchester United proud
Manchester United will be gaining a player who is as comfortable out wide on either side of an attacking midfield as he is in the hole behind the forwards. He can create space and goal-scoring chances with devastating vision and inch-perfect passes, while possessing a turn of pace that can give the player himself the openings that bring goals. I know, I’ve been watching since this kid first strode out in a Cerezo Osaka shirt! He’ll do the red of Manchester United proud.
It says a lot about the state of the transfer market – as well as Manchester United’s finances, perhaps – that the reported (initial) price of 17.5 million Euros is seen as relatively modest but, whereas Chelsea have splashed bigger cash on, perhaps, as yet unfulfilled potential in Eden Hazard, United have something close to the finished article arriving at old Trafford for the new season!
If Sir Alex Ferguson gives Kagawa the no.7 shirt, have no doubt that this Rising Son can add to a legend that includes the names of Best, Robson, Cantona, Beckham and Ronaldo.
Alan Gibson is based in Kobe, Japan and is the editor of JSoccer Magazine - Japanese Football in English (and Japanese!). Issue 4 is out June 15th and features Shinji Kagawa, as well as the next Japanese player to take the Bundesliga by storm - Hiroshi Kiyotake - joining Nurnberg after the London Olympics. JSoccer Magazine is available through the web site www.jsoccer.com (PDF or old-fashioned full colour magazine), mail alan directly at email@example.com or follow Alan on Twitter and get the details there @JSocccerMagazine
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