Before I really kick this article off let me answer one question first:
Do I think that Kagawa can become a huge success at Manchester United?
The answer in my opinion is yes. He is blessed. There are not many as good as him walking this planet today, that can do what he does, in the manner that he does it. But currently… he is residing in a partly self imposed world of limbo…
I have been banging the Shinji drum since day one. The reason for this is he is the type of player I want to see in Red. An artist. A player whose mind works in football equations and sporting algebra. We have had many a player who can do the basics, and that is fine – you will never hear me criticise the Darren Fletchers of our club. But you crave for something more. In contradiction, I have always claimed that I go to Old Trafford to watch United win, and not to be entertained, but it is not as black and white as that. You want a mix, and I am sure that is the way Fergie saw it, when he raided Dortmund and took their trequartista from them.
The first season was never an issue for me. Kagawa was always going to be broken in slowly, and the injury he obtained just slowed that down to a snail’s pace. But I saw Shinji’s purchase as one for the near future – mainly in a future that didn’t include Wayne Rooney. All last year there was that nagging thought that Wayne would start the bull all over again, and low and behold Fergie felt strongly enough to leave him out of his last swan song – a player he had cultivated, loved and cherished, his very own jewel from the North West. It was no surprise to me. I thought the club would off load him, and the era of Kagawa would begin. Well, after a summer of rumour and bile and transfer tripe, Wayne is still with us… and in a spell of form we have not seen for a very long time. On the complete flip side of this, Kagawa… his apparent replacement… is left out wide, competing with Ashley Young for a starting position. Even the eighteen year old Januzaj seems to be leapfrogging him in the order.
I think David Moyes is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is giving players their chances, and those players are not taking them. How can he play Shinji Kagawa in his prefered position, when the one player who is showing great form is already playing in that part of the park? It’s a conundrum. I do not believe for one second that Moyes ‘does not rate Kagawa’ – but in the same way that Mourinho is unhappy with Mata in his own system, Moyes might well envisage similar issues with the Japanese lad. Kagawa is NOT a left winger. However, the left side is not alien territory for him. He plays left side for his country and knows what is expected. The issue at this current time is his form, and he must take some of the blame for that. No fan of his, even me, can debate this fact. As Moyes said yesterday: “We want Shinji to feel that he’s getting an opportunity to show what he can do. Arguably, his best position may be number 10 but I think for Japan he plays in the same position we’re playing him just now. So it’s not something which is strange to him or not his position but there’s a lot of competition here and what we want is the competition to push each other on to get performances and improve.”
Shinji himself also said back in January: “I’m not satisfied what I have done here at all. It is a big and really famous club in the world, but I need to overcome lots of pressures and be mentally stronger. Unfortunately I got injured after a couple of months, but I have to be better and grow as a player and as a person in terms of contributing to team’s wins and succeeding here. We have a really strong squad with many world-class players, so it is lucky for me to have opportunity to train with them and play games with them, but I’m really feeling that I need to perform better.”
There are two specific things that are not Kagawa’s fault. Firstly, his pre season was ruined by the club. Our pathetic pre season tours are now more about the Manchester United travelling circus, rather than our players’ fitness levels. Kagawa, with his status as Asia’s highest profile player, was used in the inevitable commercial way that clubs use their stock, and this had a profound impact on him. He was not ready for the start of the season, and in a post Fergie era…it was all just brushed off as nothing. Secondly, and maybe more worrying long-term, is the constant rumour of a persistent chronic injury. That immediately makes me think of Owen Hargreaves…but both Giggs and Ferdinand have had chronic injuries, and very much had full careers. It might well explain why Kagawa has never looked 100% sharp in a United shirt, but it is speculation – and should be treated as such.
One thing I am hoping does not come to fruition is that Shinji Kagawa is the modern-day Seba Veron. Veron was the best in the world at what he did. He excited me – a player who was from another planet. Sir Alex knew what he was buying when he shelled out on a multi million pound transfer fee… but he could not find a place for him in the team. In a way that was a criminal waste of talent, but every manager has a prefered system of tactics, and in Veron’s case… he was never going to play ahead of Keane. Years later, Michael Carrick was bought to fulfill that criteria, to play along side Scholes, and to look after the football from deep… But Michael Carrick is no Seba Veron. The Argentine would have been perfect in the later years of Fergie’s reign, but time robbed us of that scenario.
As long as Rooney is playing like he is, Kagawa will not play as the Number 10. That is a crying shame, but completely understandable. As Keane was to the genius of Veron, David Moyes has no choice but to pick a Wayne Rooney who has burst into life. We would all love to see Kagawa do the things we saw in Germany, to feed Van Persie the way he fed Lewandowski. However, he needs to fight it out on the left against players who are not in his class bracket – but so far he has failed…and he must harbour some of the blame for this. He must prove to Moyes that he is essential, and not just a luxury.
I really hope Shinji comes good for us. Our legacy demands that we have brilliant players who can do the special things in football. But Kagawa needs to buck up his ideas now. We are going into a tough period in our history, with a new manager who needs time and understanding from the fans. Players like Kagawa need to take their opportunities with ruthless aplomb. They need to show that they are of the desired quality, that they are worth the shirt on their back. Shinji saw on Saturday how it works. If you underperform, there is always another player willing to jump into your boots, and show he can do it better than you.
I love Shinji, and like Moyes I will give him time. But eventually…time always runs out. This is the hour of Kagawa right now. It is time for him to make the manager see the magic he possesses.