And so the most synthetically protracted transfer saga in living memory came to an end with a pule, not the crashing crescendo most had anticipated after months of hyperbole.
Eden Hazard, the most efficient one-man PR campaign football has ever seen, announced his future team by not even announcing it nor even using the name of the team that had been lucky enough to land him.
“I am signing for the Champions League winner,” he wrote on Twitter and Facebook after an arduous four hour gap between him announcing his intentions and his final proclamation.
Even his method of revealing his choice forced those interested to seek him out rather than him announce it to the world.
Despite his verbal flatulence the signing of Hazard represents a real coup for Chelsea, not just because they have added a player that Zinedine Zidane himself rates so highly but because in doing so they have kept him out of the grasp of others whom they wish to surpass.
Manchester United, so reports go, pulled out at the 11th hour because the deal proved too rich for their blood, understandable given the eye-watering figures involved for a 21-year-old who has scored just two goals for his country and led something of a sheltered life after five seasons in Ligue 1.
Sir Alex Ferguson was evidently keen on Hazard, otherwise his trip to Lille just to see the city’s pristine architecture seems somewhat elaborate. The Scot also made a similar trip to see the delights of Dortmund, which included Kagawa.
Ferguson praised his speed ‘over the first ten yards’ as a key quality that attracted him to the Belgian international, a facet he is keen on introducing to United’s game and something that accounts for Dimitar Berbatov’s inevitable departure this summer.
United have become somewhat accustomed to missing out on transfer targets in recent years – Samir Nasri’s decision to head across the city to the Etihad rather than Old Trafford still smarts while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also turned down the chance to journey north, instead opting for Arsenal.
But perhaps there is an element of relief that tempers the disappointment of missing out on Hazard, even if the club’s supporters may not immediately call the situation that way.
For, while Hazard is undoubtedly a major talent, his transfer fee borders on the obscene and the manner of his conduct over the previous months has hardly endeared him to any particular sets of supporters, even Chelsea ones.
Luckily, within 24 hours of the Hazard show playing out its final act news filtered through from Germany that added a distinct shade of silver to the cloud hovering over Old Trafford – a deal for Shinji Kagawa was close.
An initial bid of €18m from United was rejected last week but Dortmund have now reportedly agreed a fee that will be worth €22 million including add-ons for a player who cost them just €350,000 from the Japanese club Cerezo Osaka in 2010.
His exposure as one of the principal protagonists in Dortmund’s double winning side this season makes him a more rounded prospect that Hazard given his position as leading light in a team at the top of one of the most competitive teams in Europe. The fact he costs half as much only serves to sweeten the deal.
While some supporters may fear his lack of profile in comparison to Hazard that is the only real area in which Kagawa falls behind the 21-year-old, although that is not to say he isn’t rated in Germany.
The Japanese international made the Bundesliga team of the season, prompting team-mate Nuri Sahin to remark: “the boy plays like an angel”.
Both he and Hazard enjoy playing in the No.10 role but are equally comfortable in operating out wide, while both add a creative spark to their respective sides; Hazard’s contribution of 20 goals and 16 assists plays Kagawa’s 13 and eight in seven less games.
Throw into the mix the fact that Hazard was deployed in a central role created specifically for him this season by Lille coach Rudi Garcia while Kagawa has been shifted around to accommodate Mario Gotze amongst others then the comparisons between the two become more relevant.
Hazard previously revealed that he would pick his final destination on, amongst other things, whether he would be allowed time in his favoured No.10 role and that is something Kagawa is said to be similarly keen on, hence his refusal to sign a new deal with Dortmund, which has interesting implications for United’s current forward line.
By the tail-end of last season Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck appeared to have developed a decent understanding of one another; the pair’s work for United’s fourth goal against Everton in April was sublime. Given a year or so for Welbeck to develop his finishing and they have the potential to nurture something quite special.
Javier Hernandez will also gunning for a start after being given a summer to recharge his batteries after a relentless 18 months in action – the arrival of Kagawa who would want to play just behind Rooney would certainly compromise his first team action.
While that could prove to be a dilemma for Ferguson it represents a welcome one, with Kagawa offering variety by virtue of being one of the few United players to operate between the lines, enabling Rooney to push on and gorge himself on goals.
The signing of Kagawa could certainly lessen the blow of missing out on Hazard as United attempt to wrestle back their crown from their cross-city rivals. Pride may be damaged as Chelsea gloat over their expensive capture, but there is plety of evidence to suggest that United, in switching their attention from the former Lille man to Kagawa, may be the shrewdest of the lot.
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