Things just haven’t gone to plan for Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United.
Having been signed from Borussia Dortmund last summer there was great excitement around the arrival of the Japanese international, but the arrival of Robin Van Persie posed questions over where the diminutive playmaker would fit into the team.
Kagawa made 26 appearances for United in his first season, as injuries kept him out for significant periods, but often operated from the left hand side with Wayne Rooney given the nod as the number 10 to provide the main support for Van Persie.
Former manager at Dortmund Jurgen Klopp went on record to say how it brought tears to eyes to see Kagawa used as a bit part player by United, and made enquiries to take the 24-year-old back to the Westfalenstadion though these were rebuffed by club and player.
So endeared was Kagawa to the Dortmund supporters that they even started a twitter campaign with the handle #freeshinji, to get United to release their former star.
Three league games into the season and Kagawa is yet to feature, his only playing time totalling seven minutes in the Community Shield. David Moyes said he chose Nani over Kagawa for the bench at Anfield last week and there has been talk of concern over the latter’s fitness after a disrupted pre-season, although Nemanja Vidic, Ashley Young, Nani and Rooney have all featured despite similarly disappointing build ups to the season.
So what next for the Japanese international?
Having played 75 minutes for Japan on Friday, he will be hoping to get more game time against Ghana in Tuesday’s friendly with the aim of featuring in Saturday’s lunch time kick-off against promoted Crystal Palace.
Rooney is unlikely to be ready for that game following his recent head injury so there is the chance to slot in to his preferred role off the striker, although Danny Welbeck has started the season in good form and Moyes may look to continue with him alongside Van Persie.
A natural number 10 playing in the hole behind the main striker, his options in that role look limited with Rooney the man in possession especially after a summer of transfer speculation which means Moyes must make the former Evertonian his first choice or risk losing his services.
While Marouane Fellaini was brought in midfield to make United more combative, Moyes was clearly keen to add more creativity in the centre of the park with moves for the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Luka Modric.
It was maybe a case of not seeing the woods for the trees for Moyes as Kagawa was under his nose all summer and has a lot in common with the aforementioned midfielders who began as more advanced playmakers before dropping back into the centre of midfield as United legend Paul Scholes had done many years before.
So with Fellaini bolstering the central midfield and Rooney, Van Persie, Welbeck and Javier Hernandez available for the two more advanced roles options, Kagawa’s best opportunity may well come on the left hand side of midfield.
A role he was somewhat forced into last year, it is a position he can make his own as Moyes’ side look short of quality in wide areas. Operating as an inside forward rather than a winger, he can drift inside, allowing Patrice Evra to overlap.
Kagawa may well have proved to be the main benefactor from Leighton Baines’ arrival had the deal come to fruition as the England left-back would have looked to build a partnership similar to that he has with Steven Pienaar at Goodison Park.
Drifting inside will simultaneously enable him to get closer to Van Persie and Rooney to link up and unpick defences as he does best, whilst also allowing Rooney greater freedom to drop deeper into midfield or into wide areas without the risk of isolating the Dutchman and increases his own goal threat by getting into more dangerous positions within the width of the penalty area.
For the immediate future where he plays is something of a side story, it’s whether he plays that is the main plot in this story. If Moyes continues to ignore what Kagawa has to offer then his days at Old Trafford may be numbered.
Sometimes a player needs the backing of a manager to allow him to show his best, after a disrupted first season Kagawa has spoken of his desire to impress and there’s no doubting the ability he has and what he can bring to the United team.
If it transpires he is not fancied by Moyes then I for one will be left with a horrible feeling of what might have been.
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