How to solve a problem like Shinji Kagawa? That is the issue Ryan Giggs is now the third Manchester United manager to face and he seems as unlikely to solve the puzzle as his predecessors.
This is no criticism of Giggs, just two games into his temporary reign but more a consignment to the inevitable.
Kagawa’s £12m move to Old Trafford looked like a match made in heaven; while United had lost the league title to neighbours and rivals Manchester City in the dying seconds of the season on goal difference, the Japanese international had helped Dortmund to a second consecutive Bundesliga title and secured the German Cup with a hat-trick against Bayern Munich in front of the watching Sir Alex Ferguson.
Given the freedom to play up alongside the main forward Kagawa had wreaked havoc in Germany’s top flight scoring 21 goals in the two championship winning seasons for Dortmund, winning the Bundesliga player of the year in the latter campaign.
Then came Robin Van Persie; almost out of the blue the Dutch striker became available and United pounced for the Arsenal man who had topped the Premier League scoring charts in the previous season, leaving Kagawa’s position at threat before he had even started his Old Trafford career.
Since then Van Persie and Rooney have, unsurprisingly, been the forward pairing of choice for United leaving Kagawa to play from the left hand side, a position that does not allow him the freedom he requires, or wait for injuries to give him his chance.
Despite some glimpses of brilliance, including a hat-trick against Norwich last season and an excellent display in his preferred number ten role against Bayer Leverkusen earlier this campaign, the 25-year-old has failed to consistently produce his best form and in turn secure a regular starting berth.
Kagawa’s situation has been further complicated by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson who originally signed him and the January arrival of Spanish playmaker Juan Mata who has pushed the former Cerezo Osaka man even further down the Old Trafford pecking order.
With the season approaching its close Kagawa has started just twelve Premier League games for United and with a new manager due to arrive with his own transfer targets his time in England certainly seems to have come to an end.
A return to Dortmund has always been on the cards for the Japanese ace with Jurgen Klopp making no secret of his admiration for his former star.
Last season Klopp declared himself heartbroken with Kagawa’s situation: “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.”
“Central midfield is Shinji's best role. He's an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw.”
Borussia fans even started a twitter campaign #freeshiji to get the playmaker back to Dortmund last summer such is the players popularity amongst the supporters and defender Mats Hummels last week stated that Kagawa would be welcomed ‘with open arms’.
Kagawa would not be the first player to return to Dortmund after an unsuccessful big money move away with Nuri Sahin set to re-join Klopp’s side permanently after a fruitless spell at Real Madrid.
If it were to happen Dortmund would see a hero return and United would likely recoup the £12m, and maybe even make a slight profit, whilst there is talk that a Kagawa return could open up the possibility of Marco Reus moving in the opposite direction with manager in waiting Louis Van Gaal having identified the German as one of his prime targets.
While Kagawa’s time at United may ultimately be deemed as a failure, he’s too good a player to play a bit part role and a return to Germany could reignite his career whilst giving United an advantage in the race for one of their main targets and Europe’s hottest talents in Reus.
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