When the manager of a club that has a very real chance of winning a domestic title on the final game of the season, travels to Berlin, the night before to scout a player, you know he must be serious. So when Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson was seen in the Berlin Olympiastadion on 12th May for the final of the DFB Pokal (German Cup), between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, it was well known that he was only there to see one man: Shinji Kagawa. To have made that trip on the eve of the big game against Sunderland which may have won him a 13th Premier League championship demonstrated that Sir Alex must have been pretty serious.
If Kagawa knew that his future boss was at the game, prior to emerging from the tunnel that night then he could not have had a better audition. The Japanese international scored in the first three minutes, laid on an assist and had an outstanding game in the central attacking position behind the striker Robert Lewandowski. While the Polish international scored a hat trick in Dortmund’s 5-2 thrashing of Bayern it was very much Kagawa’s final. His variety of passing and ability to create space for himself was a pleasure to behold and it would be of no surprise to learn that Sir Alex saw in Kagawa a player reminiscent of Paul Scholes: capable of unlocking defenses with technique, imagination and killer balls.
Like Scholes he is not one for the sliding tackle. Unlike Scholes he is not given to trying and has only picked up four yellow cards in his seventy one appearances for the Dortmund club.Having said that Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund team play the pressing game and Kagawa definitely pulls his weight. He is well used to the physical game and after two season being buffeted around by burly Bundesliga defensive midfielders the physicality of the Premier League should hold no terrors for him.
If you have not seen the former Cerezo Osaka player before then the first thing you’ll notice about him is his stance.On the ball he plays with a straight back and his backside closer to the ground than other players. He keeps his chin very high which must help enormously when picking a pass and scanning for teammates. This gives him a somewhat distinctive appearance given his somewhat diminutive stature. It is a very pleasing poise which makes him almost impossible not to like, unless you are an opposition supporter.
Kagawa started his career at Cerezo Osaka and his thirty five goals in fifty four matches were enough to help promote his team to the Japanese First Division. There is a misconception that he was a Japanese second division player when the transfer to Dortmund took place in the Summer of 2010. However, he did start the J-League 1 season at Osaka and played 12 games in the First Division before moving to Germany.
That misunderstanding lead pundits to believe that Kagawa would be slowly and carefully introduced into the Dortmund first team. But Klopp intended no such precaution and started the Japanese international immediately. He played seventeen games before leaving to travel with the Japan national team to the Asian Cup. In that time he scored eight goals, his first was on his third appearance against Wolfsburg, which I'm happy to say I was there to watch. His second and third were in the following game against Dortmund’s local and fierce rivals, Schalke 04. This very quickly elevated his status amongst BVB’s legion of supporters.
His first season was cut short, however, after sustaining a metatarsal fracture during Japan’s ultimately successful Asian Cup tournament. His only other appearance that season was on the last day where he collected his Bundesliga championship winner’s medal. The following season was relatively free of injury and after taking advantage of Mario Götze’s damaged pubic bone (Götze had replaced Kagawa, the season before) Dortmund’s number 23 scored thirteen goals and picked up another championship winners medal. He also helped complete a rare double for Dortmund by inspiring his team to that Cup Final win, a game which proved to be his last for the club.
The move to the Premier League is of no great surprise. English domestic football is very popular in Japan and even in his first season, the feeling was that Kagawa had ambitions beyond Germany. When he hesitated and ultimately declined to sign a contract extension, last season, the writing was on the wall and once those German TV cameras spotted Sir Alex and his right hand man, Mike Phelan, sitting in the Olympiastadion that night in Berlin, the jig was up. Dortmund fans can console themselves with the knowledge a ready made replacement in Marco Reus of Borussia Mönchengladbach, has already joined his boyhood club and will slot in nicely into the space that Kagawa left. United fans can relax, secure in the knowledge that they have a long term attacking central midfielder to call their own.
As a Dortmund fan, I’m heartbroken to see him go. As a Crystal Palace fan I’m just relieved he did not go to Chelsea.