'Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United - on the left wing! My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes.'
This is what Jurgen Klopp, the master tactician behind Borussia Dortmund's meteoric rise in the Fußball-Bundesliga, told The Guardian earlier this year.
Just imagine how poor Jurgen feels now - as Shinji Kagawa has not played a single minute of competitive football for Manchester United in his favoured central role. Yet Kagawa has emerged as a rather surprising cult icon with United fans, who are all slightly confused by his lack of involvement. In a season when many a pundit and fan has questioned United's ability to unlock a defence, Kagawa hasn't even been called upon from the bench.
So what is happening with Shinji Kagawa? The initial thought is that he is just not the manager’s cup of tea. David Moyes has a history of being a more defensively-minded manager. I am huge Everton fan and therefore, quite rightly, a huge admirer of Moyes and the work he did at Everton. But it has to said that he likes to adopt a 'safety first' mentality.
Another theory being thrown around, is that Kagawa's signing was a marketing ploy to raise shirt sales and image rights in Asia, as well as keeping United's fan base growing in what is quite quickly becoming a very crowded market for football clubs. Whilst I agree that this was definitely an element of his transfer, I disagree that he was brought in to sell shirts. Kagawa is an incredibly talented footballer and would be a blessing in any of the top Premier League sides.
So if it isn't the fact that he is not a ‘David Moyes player’ and he isn’t on the club's books to help in the Asian market, perhaps Kagawa just isn’t one of United’s top playmakers. According to Bleacher Report, Shinji Kagawa started 17 Premier League games for United; the same as Ashley Young, one less than Tom Cleverley and four more than Danny Welbeck.
Kagawa was United’s fourth highest league goalscorer with six - of course three of these did all come in the same game (vs Norwich) - but Cleverley only scored twice in the entire campaign.
However, if you take a closer look at the stats, things start to look a little less positive for the Japanese magician. Kagawa only managed three league assists and on average completed just one key pass per 90 mins. This is in comparison with Young’s three assists and 1.8 key passes per 90 mins, which was the joint highest key pass completion rate in United’s first team (along with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie).
Shinji Kagawa might not be the managers favourite, he might just be a one man marketing campaign and he most certainly is a very technically sound footballer. But the statistics from last year prove that he is not the most effective playmaker at Manchester United. In fact he comes out almost distinctively average in all of his most vital stats. Perhaps Klopp’s tears would be better shed on the fact that Kagawa hasn’t quite hit the form, or made the difference that he is more than capable of.
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