Shinji Kagawa: The Japanese Midfielder Set For Manchester United

Here's why the Japanese midfielder from Bundesliga champions Dortmund could be the missing piece of the jigsaw for Manchester United next season.
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Here's why the Japanese midfielder from Bundesliga champions Dortmund could be the missing piece of the jigsaw for Manchester United next season.

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Here's why the Japanese midfielder from Bundesliga champions Dortmund could be the missing piece of the jigsaw for Manchester United next season.

The route from the Japanese J.league to the German Bundesliga is now firmly established as the best way for Asia’s top footballers to gain attention in Europe, German clubs know it and the players seem to find settling in to the German way of life relatively simple. The fact that the players, even established internationals, can be purchased for modest sums with their stock rarely falling back in their homeland only adds to the appeal.

After the original trailblazers Ozaki and Okudera who in the 1980’s became the first Japanese players to play in the German top flight there was a lull until Takahara joined Hamburg in 2003. His 11 goal haul for Frankfurt in 2006-07 marked a high point for Japanese players looking to establish themselves in top flight European football and was significant enough for Bundesliga clubs to start plundering the J.league for these highly adaptable and technically astute footballers. So significant in fact that at the start of the current campaign there were no less than nine Japanese players at German clubs including Hamburg, Schalke, Dortmund, Stuttgart, Bayern and Wolfsburg and certainly not just there for shirt sales in Asia.

The successes of Takahara and later Japan captain Makoto Hasebe, who won the championship with Wolfsburg in his first season back in 2009, have all but been eclipsed by Borussia Dortmund’s very own Samurai Blue import. Shinji Kagawa not only arrived and adapted to the league blindingly quickly but has in the space of two seasons firmly established himself as one of the Bundesliga’s finest players and one Dortmund can barely live without.

Kagawa broke the news on Sunday that he had rejected the contract offer and was likely to leave in the summer

His goal against Monchengladbach to hand Dortmund back to back titles last week prompted more delirious touchline antics from Jurgen Klopp, but amid all the jubilation and Brinkhoff Beer showers fear over whether Kagawa was going to accept new terms and extend his stay in West Germany had already started to set in. This was confirmed when the club gave the player an ultimatum last week to arrive at a decision on his future, Borussia’s director of sport Michael Zorc despite previously attempting to allay fears surrounding Kagawa broke the news on Sunday that he had rejected the contract offer and was likely to leave in the summer. Reports in Germany claim there is only one destination with Manchester United having already offered the player terms and Kagawa mentioning the red devils as his dream club in the past.

This would bring about the end of an unlikely two year love affair after helping Dortmund return to the summit of German football, scoring 26 goals and assisting 10 in two seasons in yellow and black. Dortmund will struggle to replace the player they signed for €350,000 in 2010 but having a fit and healthy Mario Gotze next season along with the incoming Marco Reus will help soften the blow. After initial scepticism in Germany it wasn’t long before Kagawa started to showcase his talent, ‘the boy plays like an angel’ was the verdict from then Dortmund teammate Nuri Sahin after a particularly sparkling display in the Europa League. A foot injury whilst on international duty put paid to his debut season halfway through, despite this he still earned a place in the Bundesliga best XI.

His movement and ability to ghost in to goal scoring positions is reminiscent of Ljungberg’s early Arsenal career

Sir Alex Ferguson’s last Asian import (ignoring Dong Fangzou) has in many ways turned out to be invaluable during United’s last few title winning seasons. Park Ji Sung has the basic tools to survive in the English Premier League, his endless energy levels and selflessness has seen his Manchester United career last a lot longer than many imagined. Kagawa may be forced to bulk up a little but his energy levels and team ethic will need no addressing coming from this Dortmund team who press incessantly high up the pitch.

That is where the comparisons end however, operating best behind the strikers the interchangeable system under Klopp has seen him function in various positions across the front line. His movement and ability to ghost in to goal scoring positions is reminiscent of Ljungberg’s early Arsenal career but with far greater creative instincts and more skillful with the ball at his feet. An alternative option on the wing to the more orthodox wide men in Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, a role just off Wayne Rooney could also be an option.

"The style of this lively, cultured player reminds one of the filigree writing of the calligraphers," was one local newspapers attempted homage, it looks like the writing could be on the wall for Kagawa and Manchester United.

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