Shinji Kagawa became Manchester United's first signing of the 2012 summer transfer window when he moved to Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund at the beginning of July for a fee starting at £12 million.
However, the acquisition of the 23-year-old Japan international, coupled with the subsequent departure of former South Korea international Ji-Sung Park, has led to suggestions that United signed the former to increase their standing in Asia.
But is there any truth is there in this? Or did United simply sign Kagawa for his on-field talents? GMF argues both cases...
Forget shirt sales - Kagawa is a star in the making
By Will Haine
Shinji Kagawa has established himself as one of the rising stars of European football over the past two seasons yet, following his move to Manchester United, carries the unwarranted tag of an acquisition made predominantly for commercial gain.
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder played a prominent role during his two seasons with Borussia Dortmund; impressing not only with skill and industry, but contributing frequently in the goals and assists column.
Dortmund won the Bundesliga title in each of the two campaigns that Kagawa was at the Westfalenstadion, while they also lifted the German Cup last term, and his influence was vital for Jurgen Klopp's side.
In 71 games for Dortmund, Kagawa scored 29 times and provided a further 13 for his teammates, while he played a direct part in 26 percent of BVB's goals in the league last season. Not bad for a supposed replica shirt salesman.
In fact, only Franck Ribery (16) created more clear cut goal opportunities than Kagawa (15) in the Bundesliga during the last campaign, and Manchester United can claim to have signed one of the most exciting young players on the continent.
Detractors will always suggest that United signed Kagawa, a Japan international, with a view to further expansion in Asia, yet his talent is undoubted and his potential is huge. United would not have offered him the esteemed No.7 shirt if his talents did not warrant it.
When Manchester United signed 25-year-old Ashley Young from Aston Villa for £17 million last summer, the England international had scored 60 in 299 career appearances.
Yet hardly an eyelid was batted when Young completed his move to United, and there was no suggestion that the transfer had anything to do with commercial ambitions.
Kagawa, two years the junior of Young, meanwhile has a record of 86 goals in 198 appearances, and it remains baffling that his initial transfer fee of £12 million is continually questioned.
Sir Alex Ferguson has managed quite a coup in bringing Kagawa to Old Trafford, and the versatile midfielder will play a significant role in any future on-field success.
Any success away from the pitch is merely a bonus.
Kagawa move based on business
By Mark Bollons
When it comes to signing players, Manchester United are regarded as one of the best in the business.
Sir Alex Ferguson is an extremely shrewd manager, and has enjoyed more success than failure when it comes to the transfer market. Roy Keane, Cristiano Rolando and Ruud Van Nistelrooy are three high-profile success stories.
Another success story is Park Ji-Sung, a player with an incredible engine and ability to give absolutely everything on the pitch.
Signed from PSV Eindhoven for a fee in the region of £4 million, Park has often been the go-to guy in big matches for Ferguson. Without ever being a first choice, the South Korean has found himself playing a lot of big matches.
However, his influence last season was on the wane, and a poor performance against Manchester City in the ‘title decider’ could well have been the final straw. Without a guaranteed place in the squad, Ferguson agreed to let the player leave for QPR.
In the seven years that Park has been with the club, United have built their fan base in Asia. Whilst the Red Devils brand name is integral to that, having a player from the continent involved at first team level is also key.
This is Manchester United however, and they can’t just sign any player. Kagawa is of a high-standard, helping Borussia Dortmund to back-to-back titles with both goals and assists.
Ferguson was certainly happy to talk-up the talented attacker in yesterday’s press conference, admitting he’ll be a regular feature next season during the official unveiling.
He’ll also be the star attraction during this summer’s pre-season tour in China, one of a number of key stops as United look to continue building their ‘brand’ around the world.
A recent survey found United have a global fan base of 659 million, and half of those supporters are based in the Asia-Pacific region. That’s a huge market share for a team that could, potentially, have had no players from that part of the world.
That’s why replacing Park was crucial to United from a marketing perspective as much as a playing one. If the Red Devils didn’t look to capitalise on good Asian players, other clubs would. Liverpool’s chief sponsor, Standard Chartered, have already intimated that they need the club to make in-roads in the Far East. Arsenal have Ryo Miyaichi and Park Chu-Young on their books, whilst Chelsea and Manchester City will also be making stop-offs in the continent in the future.
As usual, United have been ahead of the game on this one, and they’ve kept themselves in that position with the purchase of Kagawa, the best player Japan – and the whole of Asia – currently has to offer.
I’m certain he’ll be a success on the pitch at Old Trafford, but you’d be naïve to think that his signing is purely based on football factors. The game doesn’t work that way anymore, I’m afraid.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below...