The 2012/2013 season was a bittersweet one for Shinji Kagawa. The reported £17 million signing from Dortmund ended the season with a Premier League winner's medal but the Japanese playmaker endured a rather unfulfilling start to life in Manchester.
Kagawa’s first season did not go according to plan. Granted the 23-year-old’s season was hampered by injuries which severely limited his playing time. Word from Old Trafford was that he was taking longer than usual to recover fully from the injuries but that notwithstanding, whenever Shinji eventually became available to play, one man proved to be too big an obstacle, Wayne Rooney.
Robin van Persie’s arrival at Old Trafford relegated Rooney to a deeper role in order to accommodate the Dutchman and this proved to be the Achilles heel to Kagawa’s progress. Shinji’s favoured position is in the hole, right behind the main striker, off the striker or as an attacking midfielder behind the forwards. That is where he performed with such aplomb for Dortmund, forming an almost telepathic understanding with Robert Lewandowski. In this role, he played no small part in Dortmund winning back-to-back titles and his move to United was meant to be the next step towards conquering Europe, but, until now, that has not happened, and it is no fault of his own.
Wayne Rooney can fill in and play considerably well in the hole but it is popular opinion that Kagawa, if afforded more playing time in that position, will deliver more in an attacking sense. Kagawa is more direct, more subtle and more incisive. Although his workrate and defensive qualities are suspect, his attacking qualities subvert his deficiencies. Simply put, Wayne Rooney is standing in the way of Shinji Kagawa and a strong manager is needed to make a decision on who to play and when to play them.
David Moyes has insisted that Kagawa’s lack of match fitness is the sole reason why he is not getting minutes but Wayne Rooney was put in the side while still bearing his head wound so that statement really holds no water. It seems Moyes, like his predecessor Sir Alex, does not have the guts to drop Rooney for Kagawa. I will go out on a limb here and add that it is conceivable that both do not trust Kagawa enough, especially in the big games. Jurgen Klopp, his former manager, stated in an interview last season that it
kills him to see his former charge played so seldomly and out of position.
Wayne Rooney’s five star display against Bayer Leverkusen will surely make it even harder for Moyes to play Kagawa in his favoured position. Shinji was played out on the left (as has been for most of his fledgling United career so far) and as much as he showed glimpses of his undoubted brilliance, they remained just that, flashes. It was so evident that Kagawa’s natural instinct constantly dominated his positional sense as he
regularly drifted inwards and even run into Rooney at some point midway into the first half. His influence waned as he tired and was eventually substituted for Ashley Young but every United fan would rather see more of Shinji than the man who came on for him.
However, it is worth noting, that he was too easily dispossessed on numerous occasions during the match as he got barged off the ball time and again. He needs to work on his upper body strength before he can influence games more let alone challenge Rooney for the attacking midfield role in the Premier League. The almost 60 minutes of play will do him a world of good though as he steps up his return to first team duties and United fans can only hope the #FreeShinji twitter campaign by both his Dortmund and Japanese fans resonated with the manager and we can begin to see just why BvB want him back so bad.
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