Expensive signings can’t be judged by one season alone, but the jury is still out on Shinji Kagawa, who cost Manchester United £14 million last season, and had a hard to define debut season. He did win a championship, but his injury and slightly disappointing overall production wasn’t what everyone were expecting.
A talented attacking midfielder, Kagawa came to United after two brilliant seasons with Dortmund, featuring twice in the kicker‘s Bundesliga Team of the Season and scoring 13 goals for Dortmund during his second year, proving he’s much more than your classic behind-the-striker playmaker who can’t threaten the goal too much.
Missing two months (from October to December) ruined a rather promising start from the player, and the changing tactics (some suggest there was no tactical face to United last season at all) of Alex Ferguson made Kagawa uncomfortable. Often, with United’s wingers either injured or malfunctioning, Kagawa played on the wing, as a wide playmaker, something that clearly doesn’t suit his talents.
He’s excellent off the ball and moving into space, and doesn’t need a lot of time creating chances for others or for himself, but beating players with dribbling and speed isn’t one of his strongest attributes. If an example is necessary, just look at Mesut Ozil, who Mourinho used more than once on the wing last season, and simply lost a player on the pitch.
The man hurting the most from the arrival of Kagawa and Van Persie last season is Wayne Rooney, whose versatility seems to be a weak point, when it’s strung along with his personality and succumbing to life’s pleasures too easily, exchanging the constant hard work he puts on the field with the problems he creates off of it.
At the moment, it looks like Kagawa is the preferred choice to start for Moyes at United, who will probably be playing in a similar formation he had going at Everton, which involves one striker playing in his natural positions, and others playing wide (it’s hard finding wingers when you don’t have the money), and interchanging positions between a playmaker who often shifts wide and a striker/winger who either joins the front man or moves into a crossing position.
For Kagawa, last season was a disappointment. Not just the early exit in the Champions League, but his overall ability. He himself admitted he feels he needs to do much more next season. Play more than 20 matches. Score more than 6 goals. And be a lot more influential, regardless of if he’s playing in his favorite role or in something else Moyes has designed for him (and his midfield problems might force him to make some alterations), in whatever it is United are going to achieve next season.
When it’s all said and done, if Kagawa does stick around until the end of his contract and his first season will be remembered as the best he had for United, than despite being a huge find for Dortmund in 2010 (purchased for €350,000), his Old Trafford tenure will be regarded as a flop.