Man United: Kagawa's Movement & Vision Is Wasted On Moyes' Side
For many, Shinji Kagawa is something of an enigma. The 2011/12 Bundesliga player of the year came to Manchester United with a blossoming reputation, many believing he would thrive at Old Trafford and even suggesting that Sir Alex Ferguson had at last uncovered a fitting replacement for Paul Scholes, after Anderson had failed to live up to the hype.
I was one of those people. Kagawa's arrival filled me with excitement and I viewed him as the kind of footballing master-craftsman capable of unlocking the doors of creativity, in the mould of players like the aforementioned Scholes and Barcelona's Andres Iniesta.
It seemed, at the time, that Kagawa fitted a burgeoning new philosophy for Ferguson, born out of the deeply troubling chasm between England's most successful team of recent years and their Catalan counterparts, Barcelona. This chasm in class was laid bare in two Champions League finals between the two sides, on both of which occasions United were given a humiliating footballing lesson by a group of players performing on an altogether different planet to them.
I have been ridiculed recently for suggesting that Kagawa could, and still should, be the fulcrum of United's team; the player through which their famous attacking instincts can be brought to life.
Yet I believe that Sir Alex Ferguson himself also had such high hopes for the Japanese playmaker.
It was unfortunate that Kagawa's early United career, which showed a great deal of promise, was interrupted by a knee injury that kept him out of action for a crucial chunk of his first season in Manchester. Struggling for consistency upon his return, he nevertheless showed further glimpses of class in certain fixtures, most notably against Norwich, at Old Trafford, when he beguiled the crowd with his brilliance.
Fast forward to the present day, with Ferguson in retirement and David Moyes at the helm, and Shinji Kagawa is now a painfully peripheral figure in the current squad.
Many claim that Moyes has given the Japan international a fair crack of the whip this term, yet they ignore the fact that, more often than not, he has played Kagawa on the wing where, as anyone with eyes can see, he is a fraction of the player who terrorised defences while playing for Dortmund.
It is surely no coincidence that United's best performance of 2014 came in the second half of the league game at home to Swansea City, which saw Kagawa moved from the outskirts on the left into his preferred position in a central role. He was transformed, as was the match, as he pulled the strings with his beautiful brand of quick-thinking, fleet-of-foot wizardry and guided the current champions to a comfortable 2-0 victory.
On Tuesday night, United played Olympiakos in the Champions League, a game in which Kagawa could surely have thrived. Alas, the diminutive attacking midfielder was once again confined to the bench for most of the match as Moyes, predictably, opted for a more humdrum line-up.
When he was finally introduced it was noticeable, not for the first time, that he is very often one, two or even three steps ahead of his teammates. His movement and vision is wasted in a United team who fail to move the ball quickly around the pitch. Unfortunately, all too often this season, Kagawa finds himself being dragged down to the level of the witless dross he is surrounded by.
The same has been noticeable, at times, with Juan Mata, since his arrival in January: a worrying indication that David Moyes is woefully unqualified to get the best out of such talent.
With the Scot having secured Wayne Rooney's services for another five years, along with Mata's arrival, it would appear that Kagawa's Manchester United days are numbered, despite Moyes' predecessor having appeared more inclined to lose the troublesome Liverpudlian than the mercurial Japanese.
Should he be set free when Moyes' diabolical first season in charge of United draws to a close, those of us who admire Kagawa will be desperately sorry to see him go and inwardly livid that the little magician has been so depressingly misused since arriving on these shores. We will forever wonder whether, had he been given the chance, he could have forged the kind of relationship with Robin van Persie that he once enjoyed with Robert Lewandowski at Dortmund.
It would come as no surprise to us to see him thrive wherever he ends up next, providing his next manager possesses the necessary vision and adventure, so lacking in Moyes, to utilise such a prize asset properly.