Shinji Kagawa: Former Man Utd player’s career in limbo after PAOK release him

  • Rob Swan
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Shinji Kagawa was once Japanese football’s poster boy and is considered by many as one of the East Asian country’s greatest ever exports.

The playmaker made a name for himself at his first club, Cerezo Osaka, before moving to Borussia Dortmund in 2010 for a modest fee of just €350,000.

Kagawa hit the ground running in the Bundesliga and cemented his status as one of European football’s most talented attacking midfielders during his two seasons at Signal Iduna Park.

He then joined Manchester United in June 2012 for an initial £12 million but, due to a combination of injuries and inconsistency, failed to convince during his debut season at Old Trafford.

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Ferguson had high hopes for Shinji Kagawa

Sir Alex Ferguson, in his final season as Man Utd manager, insisted that fans would see the best of Kagawa in the player’s second campaign in Manchester.

Following a hat-trick against Norwich City in March 2013, Kagawa was described as a “great player” by arguably the best manager of all time.

“He’s had a few setbacks since he came,” Ferguson told reporters, per Goal. “He missed a period of football when he was injured; that put him back.

“But he is a great player and a really good finisher – and we saw that today.”

However, Ferguson’s prediction failed to materialise.

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Kagawa had the unwavering support of United fans. A ‘Free Shinji’ campaign was even launched by United supporters on social media as Ferguson’s unpopular successor, David Moyes, put his faith in other members of the squad.

Kagawa still made 30 appearances for United during the 2013-14 campaign – four more than the previous season – but failed to score a single goal and lost his place in the team to youngster Adnan Januzaj.

Bizarrely, the Japan international missed a Premier League fixture against Newcastle United that season as a result of overeating.

“He thinks he ate too much and he had to get his stomach pumped but I think he is okay,” Moyes informed reporters.

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Kagawa returned to Borussia Dortmund in 2014

The writing was on the wall for the midfielder, who was re-signed by Jurgen Klopp for Dortmund in August 2014 in a deal worth £7.2 million.

They say you should never go back in football and Kagawa’s second spell with Dortmund was considerably less impressive than his first.

That said, he still went on to score an additional 31 goals in 145 appearances for the German outfit, winning the 2016-17 DFB-Pokal in the process.

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What’s happened to Shinji Kagawa in recent years?

Kagawa was loaned to Turkish side Besiktas during the second half of the 2018-19 season after falling out of favour under Lucien Favre at Dortmund.

He then moved to Real Zaragoza in Spain’s second division on a permanent deal, only for his contract to be terminated just over one year later in October 2020.

After three months as a free agent, Kagawa signed for Greek side PAOK on a one-and-a-half-year deal at the start of 2021.

However, his contract was mutually terminated in December 2021 after making just three starts for the club.

“PAOK FC and Kagawa decided, by mutual consent, to end their cooperation,” 27-word statement on the Greek side’s website read. “We wish the footballer good luck in the continuation of his career,” the club announced.”

As we enter the second week of January, the topsy-turvy career of 32-year-old Kagawa is now very much up in the air.

An emotional return to Japan is surely the most likely option for him, although it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the former Japan international decides to bring the curtain down on a career that many football fans expected even more from.

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