It says a lot that Shinji Kagawa is completely absent from discussion during Manchester United’s nadir, one characterised by dull, uninspired football.
Kagawa was out of favour immediately following the appointment of David Moyes, with the new manager preferring Wayne Rooney in the No.10 role, for obvious reasons, and Danny Welbeck on the flank, under less clear motives. The arrival of Juan Mata has been seen to be the final nail in the coffin for the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder.
It’s been a fall from a great height for Kagawa over these past two seasons in English football. After making a name for himself in Germany with two excellent seasons at Dortmund (or one and a half due to injury), the move to Manchester United seemed the logical step for a player of his class. It also went some way to addressing the club’s long-standing problem of the absence of creativity in the midfield.
But United was never Kagawa’s team in the way Dortmund were, and that has largely been his downfall. Injuries have played an important part in hacking away at the confidence and consistency of one of Europe’s most promising young players, limiting how often he saw a full ninety minutes to just six in his first season in England. But it also seems that Kagawa was bought for little purpose other than to bolster a squad’s numbers, and not to be brought in as a decisive figure in the midfield.
For now, Rooney and Mata will head the discussion as to who should be playing just behind Robin van Persie. Provided they’re all fit, those three names will start most games for United from now until the end of the season, probably all, meaning Kagawa has absolutely no use at the club and no opportunity to prove that he does hold some value long term.
Kagawa needs a team who are built around him. It’s not a flaw, it’s simply the way playmakers should be used. It’s no different to Mata, who hasn’t really hit the ground running since signing for United, limited in what he can do by starting games on the flank. But no one in England is going to see the Kagawa of Dortmund while the best he can hope for is a spot on the left of a system that is more 4-4-2 than anything else.
Among the clear out this summer should be the Japanese international. It will be two years in England which he’ll want to forget and move away from, probably for good. A return to Dortmund is a possibility and one that has been discussed in the recent past. Jurgen Klopp’s team will continue to be dismantled this summer, with Robert Lewandowski confirming his move to Bayern Munich, and Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus’ futures still yet to be resolved.
Klopp has already brought back one of his former star players, signing Nuri Sahin on an 18-month loan deal from Real Madrid that is widely expected to be made permanent this summer. Like Sahin, Kagawa very much needs to feel like he’s valued and wanted. Klopp, having already publically expressed how troubled he was at United’s treatment of Kagawa, would surely welcome the chance to reunite with the midfielder.
But Dortmund are holding their cards close to their chest in terms of big moves and Kagawa may not be desired at all if both the money isn’t right and new signing Milos Jojic makes a good impression. The Japanese midfielder, too, may wish to start completely anew and seek out options elsewhere in Europe.
Atletico Madrid have notably been without a strong creative presence in their midfield, and while the re-signing of Diego Ribas from Wolfsburg is an excellent acquisition, the club would be the perfect environment for Kagawa.
What is absolutely certain now is that Kagawa has little hope of succeeding at Manchester United. It would take more than just one factor to fall into place for him, and yet even if something dramatic like a change in manager does occur, bringing in an individual who will play to Kagawa’s strengths, the midfielder may still want to put the bleak episode of United behind him for good.